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Over the past few years, the work done by Rising Against All Odds has been a flashpoint in the debate over whether the West Volusia Hospital Authority should continue to exist.

RAAO is one of a number of nonprofit community organizations funded by property taxes collected by the WVHA. For the 2019-20 fiscal year, the WVHA supplied RAAO with $219,000 for its HIV program, about 89 percent of RAAO’s annual budget for the program. The WVHA provided another $50,000, about 72 percent of the budget for RAAO’s part in the WVHA health-card program.

But funding nonprofit health services is a relatively new use for WVHA dollars. When the agency was created in 1957, its sole mission was to help the local public hospital provide services to those who couldn’t pay.

Over time, DeLand’s public hospital became a private hospital. West Volusia attracted more privately owned hospitals, and the Hospital Authority’s original mission changed.

The WVHA, run by an elected board of five commissioners, turned to other means of helping the poor with health care, focusing largely on prevention rather than treatment.

Fast-forward to 2020. Again this year, RAAO and the other nonprofits are in the crosshairs as Hospital Authority commissioners debate how to spend approximately $19 million in tax dollars.

Whatever the budget decisions at the WVHA’s 5:05 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 10, teleconference meeting, the debate will continue at the polls.

Every seat on the five-member board is up for election.

Three of the seats were filled in June, when only one person qualified to run for each seat. The other two will be decided in the Tuesday, Nov. 3, election.

Brian Soukup was elected automatically after he was the only candidate to file to run for Group A, Seat 1, which had been held by Dr. John Hill.

Hill, a vocal advocate for dissolving or shrinking the Hospital Authority considerably, left his seat to Soukup, who shares Hill’s views. Hill then filed to run against Group A, Seat 3 Commissioner Judy Craig, a strong supporter of the WVHA’s current mission and its funding of health care nonprofits.

Group A, Seat 2 was filled by Dr. Roger Accardi, who also ran unopposed. Group B Seat 2 was also filled in an unopposed race by Voloria Manning, who had earlier been appointed to the seat after the death of Commissioner Kathie Shepard. Manning has been a supporter of the current mission.

In the final race, for Group B, Seat 1, Michael Ray is running against Jennifer Coen, who has positioned herself solidly in Craig’s camp. Though Ray has not been as vocal as Hill and Soukup, he, too, has raised questions about the Hospital Authority’s spending.

With a majority of seats in play, voters in the Nov. 3 election will likely decide the future of the West Volusia Hospital Authority.

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