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FSU might win a medical school with focus on elderly

The proposal, which cruised through a House committee, is supported by Gov. Jeb Bush.

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© St. Petersburg Times, published March 9, 2000

TALLAHASSEE -- A bill to create a new medical school at Florida State University aimed at caring for the elderly sailed through a House committee Wednesday.

The pet project of House Speaker John Thrasher has been endorsed by Gov. Jeb Bush.

The House Health Care Services Committee voted after hearing from Tom Johnson, a Michigan State University professor emeritus who designed the proposal.

The school would cost taxpayers $34-million annually; it would train primary care physicians to treat the state's elderly population and to work in areas with poor access to medical care, Johnson said.

Florida is home to 3.4-million people over age 65, said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Durell Peaden Jr., R-Crestview. The fastest growing age group in the state is 80 and older, he said.

Students at the new school would spend two years in hospitals and nursing homes in rural areas and other needy communities.

"Believe me, we do not have the same access to the same quality of health care in our areas that many of you do," said Rep. Dwight Stansel, D-Wellborn, a committee member whose legislative district includes five of 13 "underserved" counties.

Last year, state university system Chancellor Adam Herbert said Florida did not need another medical school in addition to those at the University of Florida, University of South Florida, University of Miami and Nova Southeastern University in South Florida.

But FSU President Talbot "Sandy" D'Alemberte suggested Wednesday that Herbert and the Board of Regents could change their minds. They have not weighed in on this year's version of the plan, D'Alemberte said.

"They've been somewhat involved with something called One Florida," he said, referring to Bush's plan to overhaul affirmative action in state university admissions.

A representative of the AARP spoke in support of the bill and no one spoke against it.

Legislators from South Florida questioned why the state should build a medical school focused on geriatric care in Tallahassee, when the largest concentration of elderly live farther south.

The vote, however, was unanimous, ending with a back-slapping session for committee chairman Peaden. After two years of trying, Peaden sounded confident that the Florida State University College of Medicine will materialize.

Sen. James E. "Jim" King Jr., R-Jacksonville, is sponsoring an identical measure in the Senate.

"I think we'll be able to pass a piece of legislation that the people of Florida will really appreciate," Peaden said.

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