The just-completed state budget for the fiscal year beginning in July includes a caveat worthy of protection from Gov. Charlie Crist's veto pen. Legislators included $1.1 million to operate a new health care clinic for Pasco's needy.
Housed within the regional hurricane shelter in Hudson that is named for Sen. Mike Fasano, the clinic is to be run by Premier Community HealthCare Group and the appropriation is intended to finance operations for two years. Fasano's continued loyalty to Crist during his independent run for the U.S. Senate and the governor's own visit to the shelter during a December ribbon-cutting ceremony are indications the appropriation should be secure but "we take nothing for granted,'' Fasano said Friday.
Then here are a few compelling reasons why the shelter is worthwhile investment in the community's health care:
Premier HealthCare, which also operates in Dade City and Zephyrhills, treated 1,100 patents in his first five months of operations in west Pasco, 85 percent of whom were uninsured. It is on pace to outgrow its leased facility from North Bay Hospital this year after opening just 10 months ago.
Even with federal health care reform, community services are still vital to better reach a needy population. More than 70,000 local residents lack health insurance and the Florida Department of Health estimated 91,000 Pasco adults have no health care provider.
Reaching the medically needy before they turn to emergency rooms for treatment cuts health care costs and should reduce treatment backlogs. Florida Hospital Zephyrhills, which retains Fasano as its director of community and legal affairs, has said previously that a third of its emergency room visits are from uninsured or under-insured patients at costs totaling $7.5 million. At the same time, the three hospitals in west Pasco reported roughly $14 million in uninsured care.
It's why the hospitals, which should see their bottom lines improve with reduced indigent health care cost, also should be willing to assist the clinic's operations. The clinic also is expecting a boost from the Florida Agency for Disabled Persons which could give dental equipment to Premier in exchange for providing services to its clients.
Fasano is to be commended for his work in assisting Premiere in establishing the clinic, the genesis of which dates back more than four years to the original idea of establishing a better network of indigent care across the county. The governor should recognize the value of this effort as well and allow Premier to better serve a needy population.