Roughly 90 days after losing $650,000 in state funding, a nonprofit organization that provides free medical and dental care to Florida Keys children has managed to raise or secure commitments for all but about $20,000 of the lost funding.
The Florida Keys Area Health Education Center is the only local provider of medical and dental care to children in need in the chain of islands and operate clinics at nine of 10 Keys schools. However, the non-profit group, which operates on a roughly $2 million-a-year budget, did not receive any state funding during the last legislative session, despite the group receiving funding for the past eight years. AHEC had received $500,000 in the state budget in fiscal year 2021-22.
This year, the state Legislature denied the group’s request for $650,000. However, local charities and foundations have stepped up to fill the void, according to Michael Cunningham, CEO of the Keys chapter of AHEC.
On Wednesday, the Monroe County government’s Human Services Advisory Board awarded AHEC $198,000, up $68,000 from last year, Cunningham said. The Ocean Reef Foundation gave AHEC $100,000, with $50,000 gifted and the other $50,000 requiring matching funds. In addition, through the Ocean Reef Foundation, the group secured an additional $100,000 grant that requires matching funds. The Ocean Reef Children’s Foundation donated $25,000, according Cunningham.
The Edward B. and Joan T. Knight Foundation donated $200,000 to AHEC, Cunningham said. The health insurance provider Florida Blue donated $25,000 and the hospital chain Baptist Health South gave $50,000.
The Key West Noon Time Rotary and the Marathon Rotary each gave $10,000, Cunningham said. The United Way of Collier County and the Florida Keys gave the group $9,500, Cunningham said.
AHEC is currently working with the Florida Department of Health in Monroe County to help support AHEC’s dental program, Cunningham said. The group is still working with the cities of Key West, Marathon and Islamorada to secure funding and is finalizing a commitment from the Monroe County School District, Cunningham said.
“Raising this money in the past 90 days has been a daunting task,” Cunningham said. “Through the amazing generosity of the Florida Keys community, we are almost where we need to be.”
In a community of servers, boat captains and other hospitality workers with little to no healthcare, AHEC serves a safety net for many Keys families.
In January, AHEC expanded its services in the Keys with a mobile dental unit staffed with a dentist and a dental hygienist to Monroe County schools throughout the Keys. The dental program services all schools on a rotating basis. Those programs were in jeopardy because of the state Legislature’s inability to provide the requested funding.