Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Trying to stay running: OKAHEC asks for $360,000 in funding

ENID — After asking for a $693,000 line item in a budget limitation bill earlier this month, Oklahoma Area Health Education Centers now is asking for half that amount in an effort to keep state AHEC locations running.

In order to prevent OKAHEC from shutting down its southwest and southeast offices, it has reduced its request from $693,000 to about $360,000.

OKAHEC currently has about $330,000 in private donations to work with for fiscal year 2011-12. If the organization secures the $360,000 it is requesting, the federal government would match that by an approximate 2:1 ratio.

In the worst-case scenario, if OKAHEC wasn’t able to get state and federal money, SWAHEC in Lawton and SEAHEC Poteau would be closed, and although NWAHEC in Enid and NEAHEC in Tulsa would remain open, the ability to help recruit doctors to rural areas would be significantly diminished, said Andy Fosmire, executive director of Rural Health Projects and NWAHEC.

“We’ve kept the program going this year utilizing private funds,” Fosmire said. “Obviously, that’s not something that can go on forever.”

Legislators likely will adjourn within the next week or so as the state budget is set and negotiations are wrapped up.

Oklahoma Sen. Patrick Anderson, R-Enid, said he and others in the Legislature have tried to look at the AHEC funding problem from many angles.

Previously, legislators had asked a line item be added to a bill that would directly appropriate money to OKAHEC.

Last year, the Oklahoma Health Department was given a lump sum of money and officials were told to spend it how they saw fit, Anderson had previously said. As a result, no money was given to OKAHEC during the last fiscal year.

Legislators have gone through other avenues to try to get funding to AHEC.

“We have asked the governor (Mary Fallin) to direct an executive order that the program be funded,” Anderson said.

Other attempts have been made to get OKAHEC funding, he said, but the most promising way at the moment looks like an executive order.

“Hopefully, we’ll be successful in the end,” Anderson said.

Article Courtesy of the Enid News

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