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Every day, hundreds of sick and injured patients walk into free and charitable clinics around the Tampa Bay area in need of a doctor.Many are suffering from chronic conditions, such as diabetes or high blood pressure. Some patients were referred to the clinics by staff at hospitals where they landed after years of neglecting to care for treatable conditions.The clinics allow the patients to pay what they can, or nothing at all. They are staffed by doctors and nurses who volunteer their time. They survive off donations and small grants.Many of the patients have jobs but they are living paycheck to paycheck. None have health insurance, either because they do not qualify for Medicaid or can’t afford private coverage. For these patients, the clinics are often their only option for primary care.

DeSantis, State Leaders Put Focus On Mental Health

Gov. Ron Desantis

Coming after the grim news that two survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre committed suicide this month, Gov. Ron DeSantis and First Lady Casey DeSantis held an hour-long “listening” session Thursday on mental-health issues. 

Several agency heads and lawmakers acknowledged ongoing problems with mental health and suicide. They cited statistics about national life expectancy dropping due to suicides and opioid use and how mental health is a bigger problem than may be widely understood.

DeSantis urged state agencies to work together to tackle the problem.

“I’d like to say this is just like a little blip that would go away,” DeSantis said. “It’s not going to go away.”

At the close of the session, DeSantis said the state does not need to expand Medicaid to ensure that additional Floridians have access to health care. DeSantis has been a staunch opponent of Medicaid expansion and the broader federal Affordable Care Act.

He said Florida has increased funding for mental-health services, but the “challenge” is to make sure it is delivered effectively. Mental health funding and how much should be spent on mental-health services in schools is an issue that the House and Senate must negotiate as they work on a budget for the coming year.

The Senate has proposed setting aside $100 million for schools to offer mental-health services, $30 million more than what the House has recommended.

Calvin Desir, 16, a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland reportedly committed suicide Saturday. That followed the suicide of Sydney Aiello, who graduated from the school last year and whose best friend was killed during the February 2018 mass shooting that killed 17 people.

Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said his office has sent letters to the presidents of state colleges and universities where Marjory Stoneman Douglas graduates are enrolled. “We’ve asked them to reach out on a weekly basis to communicate with the families and the parents and make sure we can get them all the assistance necessary, so hopefully we don’t have to live through those announcements ever again,” Corcoran said.