Law­mak­ers seek fund­ing for Pulse sur­vivors

Orlando Sentinel - - LOCAL & STATE - Ksan­[email protected]­lan­dosen­tinel .com

and fam­ily mem­bers of the Pulse night­club at­tack af­ter the 2016 shoot­ing that left 49 dead and more than 50 wounded — comes as a three-year, $8.5 mil­lion fed­eral anti-ter­ror­ism grant for the pro­gram has run out.

“This vul­ner­a­ble com­mu­nity of mostly LGBTQ peo­ple of color are dis­pro­por­tion­ately unin­sured or un­der­in­sured,” Smith said. “The Or­lando United As­sis­tance Cen­ter has been their life­line, but with­out ad­di­tional fund­ing, it may have to close its doors.”

The bill, HB 9095, is cospon­sored by Rep. Anna Eska­mani, D-Or­lando, who called the cen­ter “crit­i­cal for the heal­ing of our com­mu­nity.”

“The Or­lando United As­sis­tance

Cen­ter has served as a place of hope and sup­port for our Pulse sur­vivors and their fam­i­lies,” she said.

As of June, the third an­niver­sary of the Pulse shoot­ing, the cen­ter re­ported it had served nearly 400 peo­ple, in­clud­ing sur­vivors of the tragedy, friends and fam­ily of those who died, and emer­gency per­son­nel and med­i­cal staff who worked with vic­tims.

Ray Larsen, vice pres­i­dent at the Heart of Florida United Way, which man­ages the cen­ter, said it con­tin­ues to see sur­vivors of Pulse who are seek­ing help for the first time.

“There are also those who came in, got some help and were do­ing OK, and then for what­ever rea­son they want to and need to come back,” he said.

The lo­cal United Way has vowed that the cen­ter will re­main open, but since the end of the fed­eral grant the coun­selors who treat Pulse sur­vivors are now billing in­surance and ask­ing those who are unin­sured to pay if pos­si­ble.

Still, no one is turned away, Larsen said. Of­fi­cials are cur­rently try­ing to es­ti­mate what the needs will be for the next year and how they will be funded. “We do know that there are peo­ple go­ing for­ward who will need sup­port,” he said.

Smith’s bill to ex­pand UCF RE­STORES, HB 9093, fol­lows the law­maker’s lead­er­ship of suc­cess­ful bi­par­ti­san ef­forts in two pre­vi­ous ses­sions to se­cure state fund­ing for the sta­teof-the-art PTSD re­search and treat­ment fa­cil­ity — in­clud­ing $2.5 mil­lion in 2017 and $500,000 in 2018.

The pro­gram is home to a team of be­hav­ioral health pro­fes­sion­als and re­searchers who use vir­tual re­al­ity and ex­po­sure tech­niques to re­duce PTSD symp­toms.

The ad­di­tional money would go to­ward ev­i­dence­based sui­cide pre­ven­tion ini­tia­tives, Smith said, such as apps that con­nect fire­fight­ers, po­lice of­fi­cers and emer­gency med­i­cal tech­ni­cians with a trauma-qual­i­fied ther­a­pist dur­ing po­ten­tial sui­cide at­tempts and other high-stress sit­u­a­tions. The fund­ing also would pay to cre­ate and dis­trib­ute on­line sui­cide pre­ven­tion train­ing and ed­u­ca­tional videos that fo­cus on the high-risk pop­u­la­tions.

Dr. Deb­o­rah Bei­del, the clinic’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, said the fa­cil­ity has helped more than 750 peo­ple heal from trauma since open­ing in 2011.

“UCF is grate­ful to Rep. Smith for cham­pi­oning the im­por­tant work of UCF RE­STORES,” said Janet Owen, vice pres­i­dent of gov­ern­ment re­la­tions. “It truly saves lives and re­stores to health the very peo­ple who are ded­i­cated to pro­tect­ing and sav­ing oth­ers.”

Smith said both bills will have co-spon­sors in the state Se­nate be­fore the ses­sion be­gins.

RI­CARDO RAMIREZ BUXEDA/OR­LANDO SENTINEL

Sam Jita­ree, left, and Devi Thompson, of Or­lando, hold can­dles at a vigil in 2016 for the vic­tims of the shoot­ing at Pulse night­club that left 49 dead and more than 50 wounded.

JOSHUA LIM/OR­LANDO SENTINEL

Brett Mo­rian, from Day­tona Beach, hugs an at­tendee dur­ing the can­dle­light vigil at Em­ber in June 2016.

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