According to one state senator, efforts to improve the quality of life for farmworkers and residents of the Apopka area are underway, despite a setback earlier this year.
In May, Gov. Rick Scott vetoed $500,000 from the the state budget that was set aside to provide specialized health care to the many at-risk migrant and seasonal farmworkers in the Apopka area through the Apopka Health Center.
Mark Dickinson, CFO and interim CEO of the health center, told The Florida Independent that the funds Scott vetoed would have gone to a “high population of migrant farmers.”
Dickinson 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. He said that due to the “prolonged exposure to pesticides” and strenuous labor, the workers require “specialty intervention” for illnesses ranging from Lupus to Rhumetoid Arthritis.
So far, the Apopka Health Center has only been funded for primary care services. Dickinson now says the center is hoping to receive additional state funds for its specialty care efforts.
“We are trying,” he says, “but we just don’t have the funds available.”
State Sen. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando, says he has been working with the Apopka Helath Center and the surrounding community to help improve the quality of life for the workers in a number of ways.
Siplin says he met with waste management in the area last week to work out ways to reduce the noxious odor that surrounds the area. He says he is working to have trees planted around the area. He says he is also working on discontinuing landfills in Apopka and increasing access to fresh fruit and vegetables for the workers.
Siplin says that this community has needed help for years.
According to Siplin, 10 to 15 years ago, Apopka farmworkers were being sprayed with pesticides. ”Now, they are burying someone almost every weekend,” he says. “I feel they have been mistreated.”
Siplin says he will seek state funds for Apopka in the upcoming budget meetings. He also says that federal funds are not out of the question.
However, federally qualified health centers in Florida, such as Apopka, have not been successful at getting budget authority from the state Legislature for federal funds.
Members of the GOP-led legislature have said they are “suspicious towards federal monies,” which has led to the rejection of many federal funds for health programs in the state.
The state senator, though, remains optimistic. ”I think we will be successful,” Siplin says. “I have made this a priority in my life as a state senator.”
Siplin says that the funds set aside for Apopka remain unused, and that he hopes other state legislators agree to reverse Scott’s actions. ”I am hoping that my colleagues consider overriding the vetoes,” Siplin tells the Independent.
In the meantime, Dickinson says that the University of Central Florida is offering tools and services to the center.