Former director of health department still on paid leave

She's not working but is getting paid while fate up in air

mmeehan1@herald-leader.comApril 30, 2011 

What was to be a short paid leave for Dr. Melinda Rowe, Lexington's former health commissioner, has stretched to more than two months.

And still no decision is in sight about the continued employment of Rowe, who resigned March 1 as commissioner and makes $178,000 a year.

"It is not going to go on forever," said Dr. Rice Leach, the current commissioner of the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department. But, he said, "the department has not terminated her employment."

Leach said Thursday that he has not spoken to Rowe in some time but that there are ongoing negotiations about her continued employment.

Rowe and chief operating officer Rodger Amon resigned March 1 after a series of public meetings at which employees complained of mismanagement of funds, low morale and a hostile work environment at the health department. Because of accrued leave time, Amon is on the payroll until Monday.

Rowe was put on paid leave that was supposed to last a few days. She's collected about $27,400 while on leave.

The Board of Health directed Leach in March to consider Rowe for the newly created job of public health physician after Rowe asked to be considered. Leach said little has been done to determine what a person in that job would do. There is no employment posting with that job title on the health department's Web site.

Leach said he was limited in what he could say about Rowe because it is a personnel issue.

A call Thursday to Rowe at her Lexington home was not returned.

Officials with the Lexington health department, state health officials and Lexington Mayor Jim Gray worked long hours the last weekend in February to resolve management issues at the health department. At the time, officials said it was important to move quickly.

But Susan Straub, Gray's spokeswoman, said Thursday the mayor is satisfied that the concerns raised about the health department are being handled in a timely manner.

The health department, which has 360 employees and an annual budget of $28 million, is also the focus of an ongoing investigation by the state Office of the Inspector General and the Kentucky Board of Pharmacy. Two employees have been reassigned in relation to that investigation.

Leach also has asked state Auditor Crit Luallen to examine the department's finances. A federal review concerning an $11.7 million grant to build a new clinic to serve the department's mostly poor patients raised questions about how tax dollars are allocated to the department's Primary Care Center.

The health department has received about $37 million in property tax money since the city began collecting the tax specifically for the health department in 2005.

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

Lexington Herald-Leader is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service