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Hernando hurricane shelter, health clinic get funding

BROOKSVILLE — A day after getting word that $1.1-million was coming his way, Arc Nature Coast director Mark Barry was ready to roll up his sleeves.

On Wednesday, Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, called Barry to tell him that the agency's funding request for a new training facility, which would also double as a hurricane shelter for developmentally disabled clients, had survived Gov. Charlie Crist's veto of expenditures in next year's state budget.

Another $14-million for a new Hernando County Health Department clinic, which will unite locations spread throughout the county, also made it through the final round of approval.

"We're elated," Barry said. "But the reality is that we have a lot of work ahead of us. A lot of work."

While the two important projects buck the trend of drastic budget cuts during a tight fiscal year, both groups now face the task of balancing operational funding cuts while trying to figure out how to expand.

Arc Nature Coast expects to lose $140,000 in revenue next year because of cuts in Medicaid rates. Meanwhile, the Health Department must figure out how to make do without $128,000.

"It's a tradeoff," explained Jean Rags, health and human services director for Hernando. "The same thing goes for both these projects that the governor approved."

While "thrilled" with the allocations, she said the agencies will have to find money to staff the new facilities and to provide more services. For the Health Department, knowing that staff spread around the county will be combined under one roof lessens the blow of the cuts, Rags said.

With a new clinic, the department can move forward with 10-year-old plans to expand health care services on 3.5-acres the county bought in 1999. The site is near the department's location on Forest Oaks Boulevard.

While plans for the new building have yet to be determined, the Nature Coast Community Health Center in Brooksville will remain open.

But with less money, the department will still have to provide for a growing number of uninsured and underinsured residents. According to the 2006 Health Needs Assessment, about 18 percent of Hernando residents do not have medical insurance.

For Barry, times like these reveal the beauty in Arc Nature Coast being a nonprofit organization. He plans on approaching the community and private funding sources to raise money, and hopes the organization doesn't have to tap savings.

As the first of its kind in the region, the new facility will provide shelter for hundreds of people with developmental disabilities in Hernando, Pasco, Citrus and Sumter counties. When not needed as a shelter, the center will serve more than 160 people who now spend their days with the agency.

The new, hardened building, which could be up to 12,000 square feet, would have a kitchen that could be used both for training and during hurricanes. With open multiuse areas, restrooms and storage, the facility could accommodate a minimum of 200 people with developmental disabilities during disasters, and up to 75 caretakers.

It could be built either at the group's Brooksville site, or on county land that's more centrally located.

"It's going to be a challenging year," Barry said. "But I'm an eternal optimist. We're focusing on the benefits the allocation from the state will bring to our community."

Chandra Broadwater can be reached at cbroadwater@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1432.

Hernando hurricane shelter, health clinic get funding 06/12/08 [Last modified: Thursday, June 12, 2008 7:51pm]
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