Legislators have made another attempt in this year’s budget to award half a million dollars to a community health center in Apopka. The money would go toward providing specialized health care to a community experiencing a high rate of environmentally-caused illnesses.
The state’s $70 billion budget, which was released yesterday and should go to a vote on Friday, sets aside “$500,000 in nonrecurring funds from the General Revenue Fund” for the Apopka Family Health Center.
Apopka, a community outside of Orlando, is facing a serious health crisis that has caught the attention of health researchers, health providers and policymakers. Apopka has a large population of seasonal farm workers and minorities, several of whom would likely benefit from the line-item funding.
This isn’t the first attempt to set aside funding for the health center.
Last May, Gov. Rick Scott vetoed $500,000 from the the state budget that was set aside for Apopka’s health center.
State Sen. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando, who has been fighting for the Apopka community, said last year that he would continue to try to get help for the area’s residents.
Siplin told me last September that helping the residents of Apopka has become “a priority in [his] life as a state senator.”
According to Siplin, the community has needed help for years. Ten to fifteen years ago, he said, Apopka farmworkers were being sprayed with pesticides. “Now, they are burying someone almost every weekend,” he said. “I feel they have been mistreated.”
According to a study from the University of Central Florida’s College of Medicine, Apopka is facing various health problems, many of which are attributed to “chronic pesticide exposure and insufficient pesticide safety training.” The study warned that the pesticides present “a highly prevalent problem that is related to both chronic and acute conditions and generational adverse effects.”
It also found that “the most common complaint [of farmworkers] was cold-like symptoms, followed by gastritis and musculoskeletal problems.” About 80 percent of the Hispanic migrant workers were found to be overweight or obese, with high blood pressure. Many of them face an “inability to receive consistent, affordable care while being exposed to multiple occupational hazards” due to a number of factors, including “language barriers, lack of health insurance, lack of transportation, fear of immigration policies, and low socioeconomic statuses.”
Mark Dickinson, CFO and interim CEO of the health center, told The Florida Independent last year that the funds Scott vetoed would have gone to a “high population of migrant farmers.” He said that the region’s mostly Hispanic farm-working population encounters high amounts of pollution and poisonous pesticides, which have contributed to poor health conditions. Due to the “prolonged exposure to pesticides” and strenuous labor, he said, the workers require “specialty intervention” for illnesses ranging from Lupus to Rhumetoid Arthritis.
Dickinson also said last year that he was hoping the center would receive additional state funds for its specialty care efforts.
The money for Apopka was one of the few Siplin projects not removed from the budget. Many of Siplin’s other projects were axed from the state budget this year.