County grants $8 million to Beach health-care center
By Suzy Valentine
The fight against AIDS received an $8 million shot in the arm Tuesday when the Miami-Dade County Commission approved funding for a health-care center to treat patients, including those with HIV.
Commissioners voted unanimously to allocate a portion of this year's $15 million surplus generated by the first General Obligation Bond sale in July so a Miami Beach health program can acquire an additional property.
Favorable interest rates July 7 netted $265 million in the first round of General Obligation Bond funding - $15 million more than the county had budgeted.
More than half of the windfall - $8 million - is to go to Miami Beach Community Health Care so it may buy 710-720 Alton Road, its third property.
At its meeting Dec. 14, the county's Community Outreach, Safety and Healthcare Administrative Committee agreed to the proposal with the stipulation that the balance of the surplus from the first Building Better Communities bond sale - $7 million before expenses - be shared by community health centers in each of the 13 districts.
The head of Miami Beach Health Care said the multidisciplinary Alton Road center would service Miami-Dade County residents.
"We made a commitment to serve the county's HIV patients," said CEO Kathryn Abbate, "and not just those on the Beach. A comprehensive HIV program is one of the cornerstones of the project."
Though Miami ranks third in AIDS cases nationwide behind New York and Los Angeles, it has the fastest-growing incidence of the disease with 53.8 new cases reported per 100,000 population last year.
Commissioners were undivided in embracing the allocation. One remembered being a state legislator when the medical profession identified AIDS in the mid-1980s.
"The first bill that was ever done in this country on AIDS, I did it in Tallahassee," said Javier Souto. "It was called the AIDS Information Bill, and I knew about the disease because I was in the pharmaceutical field."
"Dr. Gwendolyn Scott is one of the top researchers of HIV in the world," he said. "Jackson is hooking up with hospitals in Africa in countries where HIV is destroying children. Dr. Scott is involved in Zambia. We have the know-how at Jackson those countries don't have, and we can do things so Miami-Dade County becomes a light to the world."
Some commissioners who supported the allocation were vocal about funds for the rest of the county - one using the seasonal analogy of a lucky dip.
"When this item came before the subcommittee, my concern was the process as $8 million was snatched off the top. I commend Commissioner Bruno Barreiro (whose district includes Miami Beach) for doing that," said Commissioner Dorrin Rolle. "But before we deal with the rest, I'd like to see some process in place because if it's a grab bag, I'd like to grab a piece of it myself."