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  1. Florida Politics

Governor's budget cuts funding for hundreds of health care workers

Published Feb. 28, 2015

TALLAHASSEE — Nutritionists who advise poor families, health counselors and family support workers are among hundreds of health care positions that would be cut under Gov. Rick Scott's proposed budget.

Nearly 60 percent of the 1,353 positions eliminated in the governor's budget released last month would come from the Florida Department of Health, an agency whose mission is, "To protect, promote and improve the health of all people in Florida."

Records show that under Scott's plan, the department would lose funding for 758 positions in the 2015-16 fiscal year, roughly 5 percent of its workforce under the current budget. Department spokeswoman Tiffany Cowie said most of those positions are currently unfilled.

"The Florida Department of Health streamlined processes and administrative efficiencies, which resulted in the reduction of 758 positions, more than 500 of which are vacant," Cowie said in a statement. The nearly 200 layoffs in the department will be administrative and not directly affect county health departments or any doctors who see patients, the governor's office said.

Cowie insisted "no department services or readiness capabilities will be interrupted."

In addition to providing disability services and overseeing health regulations throughout the state, the Department of Health runs health clinics in every county. These county departments provide low-cost care to poor Floridians, nutritional help for children and monitor the spread of diseases in their areas.

Under Scott's proposal, county health departments would lose funding for about 470 jobs, none of which are currently filled, according to records obtained from the department. But the budget would eliminate money that could be used to eventually fill those open jobs.

Local health departments would be unable to fill openings on their staffs for a nutritionist and a counselor in Pasco County and a budget analyst in Hernando. Proposed cuts wouldn't specifically affect the Hillsborough or Pinellas health departments.

A statement points to cuts in the Department of Health as part of a broader trend of efficiency in this year's proposed budget, estimating job cuts across state government will result in $267 million in savings.

"The governor's recommended budget contains a host of cost saving initiatives that will save Florida families money," the statement said.

Some patients say the proposal is misguided. Rather than get rid of money set aside to hire staff in county health departments, they say, the state should bring in more staff.

"They don't need to cut it; they need to up it," said Jonathan Snell, a St. Petersburg resident who's been going to the downtown health clinic for 11 years.

Scott's recommendations won't go into effect unless the Legislature, which is responsible for finalizing the budget, agrees.

Last year, the final budget approved by the House, Senate and governor eliminated more Department of Health positions than the governor originally recommended.

Contact Michael Auslen at mauslen@tampabay.com. Follow @MichaelAuslen.