Originally created 06/13/06

Cutbacks threaten program



Ashley Wright was able to leap ahead of her classmates at T.W. Josey High School last year because she already had faced down her frog.

In a health professions enrichment program at Paine College, she got biology and math classes that helped put her ahead, including dissecting a frog before she had to do it in biology.

"So when it came time for classes, I already knew and it helped me out," said Ashley, who started a similar program Monday at Medical College of Georgia called Jump Smart. "The same way for math."

Whether that will continue, however, is very much in doubt because its federal funding is in jeopardy. Program advocates say it could have far-ranging repercussions for minorities, who already suffer from a health care gap in services.

President Bush proposed eliminating all but $10 million of the $145 million in the Title VII program next year. It had been cut in half the year before.

It provides a variety of funds aimed at not only mentoring and recruiting minority and disadvantaged students into health professions but also enticing health care providers to go to rural and underserved areas, said Erica Froyd, the senior legislative analyst for the Association of American Medical Colleges.

U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood, R-Ga., led a group of 190 colleagues who wrote to a key House subcommittee asking to restore it to $299 million; last week, the subcommittee approved $163 million, about a 12 percent increase. That's important for rural areas scarce on doctors, said Norwood spokesman John Stone.

"If you don't find adequate funding there, it usually winds up driving up your costs elsewhere," he said. "Instead of being able to get a doctor checkup in a small town, now there's a major situation that has to be handled at University Hospital or MCG."

It doesn't restore funding for the programs Ashley is in, though, and Jump Smart would end after this year, said Wilma Sykes-Brown, the assistant dean for educational outreach and partnerships in the MCG School of Medicine.

That leaves Ashley wondering about her hopes of being an anesthesiologist.

"I really learned how to study and I learned study habits" she said of the program she took last year. "I figured if I stayed in this year and got in next year, I would be ready and set for college.

"(Now) I would just have to do it on my own."

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or tom.corwin@augustachronicle.com.

WHAT'S NEXT:

A full House committee would have to approve the restored Title VII funding, followed by Senate approval, at which point advocates would hope to increase the funding for the health professionals training. That would make it more likely for a bigger increase when the House and Senate work out their differences in a conference committee.