No decision on ex-Fayette health commissioner; 'fiddling around' endangers grant

mmeehan1@herald-leader.comMarch 15, 2011 

Dr. Melinda Rowe

Former Fayette County health commissioner Dr. Melinda Rowe remains on what appears indefinite leave after the Board of Health took no action on her fate Monday.

Rowe, who makes $178,000 a year, resigned as health commissioner March 1 after emergency public meetings during which staff members were critical of her management. Monday's was the second extension of her leave.

At question is whether Dr. Rice Leach, the new commissioner, will hire her, as she has requested, to fill a new position of public health physician. Health officials said last week that a decision was expected at Monday's meeting.

Leach did address the future of a $11.7 million federal grant that is slated for creating a new health facility. He said recent turmoil at the health department has been noticed at the federal level.

"We have got to get out of the public debate," Leach told the board. When he contacts officials at the Health Resources and Services Administration, which oversees the grant, they ask, "What are you all doing down there?" Leach said. "The boys at the top are getting a little antsy."

The problems can be overcome, he said, but decisive action is needed. "Is that grant at risk?" Leach said, "Only if we keep fiddling around."

In addition, the department is being investigated by the state Office of the Inspector General — part of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services — and the Kentucky Board of Pharmacy. Two Primary Care Center managers — Kyle Black, the chief operations officer, and Surinder Sabharwal, the chief pharmacy officer — have been reassigned because of the investigation.

The Board of Health has a $28 million tax-funded budget. The Primary Care Center, operating under the umbrella of the Board of Health, provides medical care for about 17,000 people, many of them poor.

Reach Mary Meehan at (859) 231-3261 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3261.

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