Committee OKs funding for health program

By Beth Silver

Arizona Daily Wildcat

PHOENIX A House panel voted yesterday to restore funding in the state's ailing university-run rural health program.

The five Arizona Area Health Education Centers cover medical needs in rural and underserved areas. The University of Arizona-run network sends out medical, nursing, pharmacy and social work students on rotations from the state's university system.

In mid-March, the Legislature voted to gut the $1.2 million in state funding for the rural medical outreach network. So Rep. Lou-Ann Preble, R-Tucson, brought it back to life by sponsoring an amendment to restore funding.

Preble, a retired registered nurse, said legislators nixed the program in the budget process because most state lawmakers did not know what function AHEC served.

The amendment, which passed the House Rural and Native American Affairs Committee 9-1 yesterday, would replenish that money and add another $100,000.

The dissenter, Rep. David Farnsworth, R-Snowflake, said he voted against giving the money because the universities get too much already.

Even with the rest of the committee's endorsement, getting full legislative support will be tricky, committee members said. The bill has to pass the appropriation committees process, which has been rough for universities this session.

In addition, the money would have to come from a $25 million pie the Legislature earmarked from this year's bills. So far, bills going through the Legislature total $80 million.

Janet Scoggin, an Arizona State University nursing professor, said her students are able to make rotations around the state with the program.

"It gives them a taste of what rural health care is like that they otherwise wouldn't be able to get," she told the panel.

Last year, the Legislature mandated 50 percent of the university system's health care students make rural rotations. Janet Bingham, Arizona Health Sciences Center public affairs director, said AHEC provides a mechanism to implement that mandate.

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