Published Wednesday, May 3, 2023

Like most social service organizations, the Osceola Council on Aging (OCOA) constantly faces funding challenges. To best serve our community, we consistently apply for grants (state and federal), and funding from both local and private foundations. We request donations, host fundraisers and, fortunately, have built an immense amount of community partnerships which helps our organization support thousands of Osceola residents in need.

Unfortunately, there are federal funding changes on the horizon at the end of May that will further challenge us. Certain federal entitlement programs are transitioning due to the pandemic’s conclusion. We obviously are thrilled the pandemic has ended. However, with it being over, we are facing funding obstacles.

Recently, the Biden administration announced an end to the COVID Public Health Emergency mandate, which also ends the temporary expansion of the Medicaid program. With this change, Florida officials expect more than 1.5 million Florida residents will lose medical coverage.

At the beginning of the pandemic, Congress passed a bill that prevented anyone from being dis-enrolled from Medicaid. Meaning, once qualified for the social service program, under any circumstance, and even after returning to work, all participants were entitled to keep the coverage. Now, with the public health emergency expiring, states can begin dis-enrolling individuals.

In preparation for these transitions, representatives from the Osceola Council on Aging recently traveled to Tallahassee to meet with state representatives. Kelly Bender, Clinical Care Coordinator from the OCOA Health Clinic, discussed changes that would affect the OCOA Health Clinic in Kissimmee and the St. Thomas Aquinas Medical Clinic in St. Cloud, while also championing for additional monies to expand medical offerings.

Bender, along with a group of Osceola constituents and representatives from the Florida Association of Free and Charitable Clinics (FAFCC), attended the meetings.

The FAFCC is a 501c3 organization that works to advance Florida’s healthcare safety net by empowering organizations across the state to work to increase access to care for the underserved. The OCOA is a member of the FAFCC, providing care for thousands of underserved residents, while also managing free healthcare clinics for residents without coverage or on Medicaid.

“The FAFCC administers a state funds grant program to free clinics, like the OCOA, and collects patient services data annually. The Free and Charitable Clinics in Florida provide more than $200,000,000 in care to more than 200,000 unduplicated patients. Through this data collection, the FAFCC found gaps in service for mental and dental health care,” said association CEO Rebecca DeLorenzo. “We are grateful for the ongoing support from our state legislators this year, while also seeking additional funding to support expanding services for dental and mental health care to low-income uninsured Floridians.”

The funding would increase access to clinical therapists, care coordinators and psychiatric drug programs. This also would allow our clinics to play an increased role in intervention and prevention, thus likely reducing the chances a patient will be in crises and require hospitalization.

“Access to appropriate and timely mental health assessments and intervention are key when treating uninsured patients. We are obviously concerned about the end of the public health emergency benefit; however, we feel incredibly optimistic for additional funding based on our recent discussions in Tallahassee,” added Bender.

According to a recent ALICE Report (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed, a compilation of information which refers to those who earn above the federal poverty level, but not enough to afford housing), Osceola County is designated as a medically underserved County, and why the FAFCC’s work, along with our free medical clinics are so important for Osceola residents.

I am immensely proud of the work the OCOA does for our community. Our team members go above and beyond in serving Osceola residents, daily, to meet the challenges we face; whether it be keeping our clients safe during Hurricanes, healthcare crises during the pandemic, and now changes in government programs and funding. We will continue to do what it takes to serve our seniors, disabled adults and families living in poverty and feel confident our work in Tallahassee will have a positive outcome.

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