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Every year, agencies providing care and services to West Volusia’s most vulnerable populations seek funding from the Hospital Authority to assist individuals to sign up for the Hospital Authority’s health card program and guide them to the proper health care channels.

As budgeting season approaches, the Hospital Authority must decide who gets money.

Some prominent agencies are unlikely to receive pushback from the Hospital Authority board when it comes to funding. These include The House Next Door and The Neighborhood Center, two agencies that have worked closely with the board over the years. 

However, two other agencies have become flashpoints for debating who exactly should get the property-tax money the Hospital Authority collects. 

First is Hispanic Health Initiatives, a DeBary-based organization that provides services, including diabetes education, to low-income Spanish-speaking individuals. In 2020, Hispanic Health Initiatives shuttered its doors due to the COVID-19 pandemic and did not use all its funding, something some board members have argued as reason to give the organization less this time around. 

Another argument has centered around whether the authority should provide money to agencies that render services to non-health card holders or agencies that derive most of or all of their funding from the WVHA. 

In the past, Hospital Authority Board Member Brian Soukup has argued that Hispanic Health Initiatives should not receive funding because it may discriminate against non-Hispanic clients.

Hispanic Health Initiatives officials have denied any discrimination, noting that their organization helps an underserved population.

Supporters of funding Hispanic Health Initiatives, including Citizens Advisory Committee Chair Donna Pepin, argue the diabetes-instruction provided by the agency helps keep low-income individuals from developing more-severe health problems. Pepin also argues that the miCare clinics are not currently equipped to provide in-depth diabetes education in Spanish.

The next agency that has become a hot topic, as it was in 2020, is Rising Against All Odds, an HIV testing and prevention agency. 

RAAO provides HIV testing, education and prescriptions to members of the community who would, per RAAO spokespeople, be unlikely to pursue care through traditional channels. The organization, like others on the Hospital Authority bankroll, helps provide care to homeless individuals in and around DeLand. 

RAAO came into the spotlight during the 2020 budgeting process, as some members of the Hospital Authority board argued RAAO should get less money. This led to a tense back-and-forth between RAAO founder and CEO Brenda Flowers and then-Hospital Authority Board member John Hill.

Now, among members of the Citizens Advisory Committee, defunding RAAO has come up again, and RAAO’s Flowers has taken a stance against what she argues is a discriminatory position by members of the Hospital Authority and the Citizens Advisory Committee that helps the Hospital Authority decide how to spend its money.

“I sat through the discussions that occurred at that meeting, I listened to RAAO being devalued … ,” Flowers said at a Citizens Advisory Committee meeting May 4. “What was most disturbing is that many of you chose to be silent, and I’ve chosen to be silent in the past, feeling ostracized, and feeling bullied … in these rooms.” 

Flowers spoke again at the Hospital Authority board meeting June 17, this time against statements made by Soukup earlier in the meeting about agencies that receive 100 percent of their operating budget from the Hospital Authority. 

“Rising Against All Odds has reduced its dependency on the WVHA to 42.5 percent. It used to be 100 percent,” she said. “I’d like to ask that you consider when you talk about a funded agency … because this information goes in public record, that we try to make sure that it is accurate.”

Members of the public and CAC members alike have spoken in favor of RAAO in the past. In May, CAC co-Chair Jacquelyn Lewis argued in favor of funding RAAO for the work they do, and Electralytes Charity Club spokeswoman and community organizer Alzada Fowler spoke in Flowers’ favor June 17.

The Hospital Authority’s next meeting, on Thursday, July 15, will begin the budgeting process, as the board must decide on its proposed millage rate. 

Discussions around the budget are likely to be tense, as the board must reckon with plenty of financial decisions, including whether to pay into Medicaid coverage as they have in the past, and whether to fund new agencies seeking funding, like New Hope Human Services in Deltona and the Healthy Start Coalition of Volusia and Flagler Counties.

Some members of the Hospital Authority board and the CAC have argued for reducing funding to lower property taxes — namely Soukup, who has previously argued that the Hospital Authority is viewed as a “honey hole” for acquiring tax money. 

Other members, like Hospital Authority Board Member Judy Craig, have pushed back on funding cuts.

The next West Volusia Hospital Authority meeting will be at 5 p.m. July 15 in the City Commission Chambers at DeLand City Hall, 120 S. Florida Ave. The meetings are open to the public.

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