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State awards $35 million for primary care

Twenty-eight health-care organizations in Florida  will receive a total of $35 million in state grants to enhance primary care for low-income people, officials announced Monday. Winners include hospitals, county health departments and federally qualified health centers.

Lakeland Regional Medical Center received the single largest award, $4 million. In July, LRMC set up a primary-care clinicacross the street to divert patients who didn't need emergency-room care to a less-intensive setting. Before that opened, 40 percent of Lakeland's ER cases were non-emergent, contributing to the hospital having the busiest emergency room in the state.

The Lakeland clinic is one of 13 new projects that received grants. Another new project that received a substantial grant -- over $2.5 million -- is sponsored by Tampa Family Health Centers.

Grants will also go to 15 established projects around the state. Jackson Memorial was awarded the largest grant, $3.3 million, closely followed by Jessie Trice Community Health Centers, which will receive nearly $3.2 million.

The money for the projects, appropriated by this year's Legislature, is part of a Medicaid fund called the "low-income pool."  The Agency for Health Care Administration, which includes Medicaid, announced the grants in a press release that credited Florida Senate President Mike Haridopolos for shifting some of the pool funds to community projects rather than restricting it to hospitals.

“This initiative aims to provide Floridians with access to preventative health care services, so they don’t have to rely solely on expensive emergency care,” Haridopolos was quoted as saying in the release. "The Agency’s action to award these grants will increase this critical access in a number of health care facilities in communities across our state.”

The full list of grantees is on the AHCA Medicaid web site; go to this page and scroll down to LIP Distribution.

Carol Gentry, founder and special correspondent of Health News Florida, has four decades of experience covering health finance and policy, with an emphasis on consumer education and protection.