Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Senator Arthenia Joyner Welcomes Governor's Decision To Reject Moving State's Minority Health Initiative Into Sprawling Agency Bureaucracy

From the Senate Dems:

State Senator Arthenia Joyner (D-Tampa) on Tuesday welcomed reassurances from the governor’s office that a move to transfer the innovative Office of Minority Health into a sprawling division within the Florida Department of Health would be rejected.

The decision came less than 24-hours after the Tampa Democrat sent a letter to Governor Charlie Crist, urging him to rethink his agency’s pending action.

“The Office of Minority Health is currently on the cutting edge with regard to research, cultural competency and health equity policy,” Joyner wrote. “This momentum must be continued. Moving this office into a large department division will most certainly diminish the capability of the office to continue developing and implementing direly needed policies and strategies essential to eliminating health disparities among racial and ethnic populations.

"It is my deepest fear that the focus and progress of the program will be lost by swallowing this mission within an immense bureaucracy.”

At issue was an abrupt decision by DOH to transfer the highly effective Office of Minority Health into the agency’s sprawling Division of Family Health Services.

Established by the Legislature five years ago, the Office of Minority Health was launched by the former governor as a way to close the widening gap in health care for minority and ethnic residents by providing community medical outreach services, among other programs.

Since then, the group has made significant headway in rolling back not only the disparity in health services available to such groups, but the high costs taxpayers shoulder due to over-reliance on indigent emergency room care.

This has been accomplished at little cost to the state. Staffed by five including the director, only three full time members of the unit are paid by the state; the other two are funded through federal grant money.

“Since its inception, the Office of Minority Health has been extremely effective, already touching 50,000 lives throughout Florida and saving taxpayers potentially millions of dollars,” said Sen. Joyner. “The medical treatment this office spearheads costs on average about $100. Compare that to the typical emergency room visit costing taxpayers roughly $1600. That’s a huge savings.”

Cut this last legislative session by $1 million, the office has been struggling to complete a series of innovative initiatives, among them an agency-wide strategic and operational plan, along with a county-by-county database so that private health care organizations and residents can track community needs and progress.

The sudden decision to absorb into a larger, more cumbersome bureaucracy such a dynamic office noted as much for saving lives as for saving money made little sense, particularly in light of the economic conditions the state currently confronts, according to Joyner.

“Nationwide, our state comes in 45th in health care rankings, much of it due to the lack of health insurance and health care options for a large group of our diverse population. The worsening economy is only compounding matters.”

The Senator said she was heartened to hear that the governor pledged to protect the group’s independence, while continuing to report to the agency’s deputy surgeon general.

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