The numbers are stark: in the Florida Keys, approximately 30% of school-aged children are uninsured, and 28% are enrolled in Medicaid. For families who do have insurance, 53% report a deductible of $7,500 or more—an unthinkable amount to the many who live at or below the poverty level. And with only five pediatricians countywide—all with capped Medicaid enrollments in their respective private practices—the barriers to basic health care for children in the Florida Keys are real and significant.
It’s precisely that challenge Florida Keys Area Health Education Center (AHEC) — a nonprofit whose mission it is to “provide direct medical, community health and educational services through contract funded community based collaborative partnerships”—took on when in 2014 it launched the Children’s Primary Care Health Centers, with a $250,000 grant from the State of Florida. That initial round of funding supported the creation of four primary care clinics in the Lower and Upper Keys.
A year later, Health Foundation of South Florida stepped in with a more than $330,000 grant to help build and maintain an additional four sites, with a special focus on the Middle Keys—effectively doubling the number of Monroe County sites. Then, in 2018, the Foundation provided an additional $100,000 to further expand services to include oral and mental health throughout the region.
Since then, AHEC has seen annual increases in the number of patients and services provided: they went from serving just over 3,000 patients in 2014 to 6,500 in 2019.
Today, the clinics continues to offer services at no-cost, including: school and sport physicals, management of chronic illness, prescriptions, oral health assessments, dental sealants, and mental health programming. Where applicable, Keys AHEC does bill insurance companies but there are no fees or co-pays.