Lexington council resolution does not resolve issues surrounding new health clinic location

Council also asks for business plan

mmeehan1@herald-leader.comJanuary 27, 2012 

The question of who will cover an estimated $367,000 to relocate Community Action Council from a city-owned building desired for a health clinic remains unanswered.

Officials have said repeatedly that speed is key in retaining an $11.7 million federal grant to create a new HealthFirst of the Bluegrass clinic to serve Fayette County's poor. But the process seemed to take a step back Thursday as Lexington's Urban County Council approved first reading of a resolution calling for a conditional lease of the property, at 913 Georgetown Street. A final vote will come next week.

The new resolution does not offer a yearly rate for the lease or specify a length of time. That is a significant change from an earlier measure considered by the council, which specified a $1-a-year fee on a 99-year-lease.

Vice Mayor Linda Gorton also asked that HealthFirst submit a business plan for the new clinic and a breakdown of how tax dollars from the city would be spent on the clinic.

The health department and HealthFirst, which previously operated as the Primary Care Center, have received about $37 million in property tax money since the city began collecting a tax specifically for the agency in 2005.

Gorton said she wanted to be sure "who is on the hook in the event that there is a problem with this down the road."

The lease issue is the latest hurdle for an $11.7 million federal grant for a health clinic to serve Fayette County's poor. Local officials have long said the grant money, from federal stimulus funds, needs to be spent by September, or it could be lost.

In October 2010, HealthFirst announced a joint venture with the Bluegrass Regional Mental Health-Mental Retardation Board to build a facility. That deal fell apart during months of turmoil at the Primary Care Center, which until recently operated under the umbrella of the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department.

The turmoil led to the resignation of Dr. Melinda Rowe, the health commissioner.

HealthFirst executive director William North, who previously had said renovations could begin on the Georgetown property this spring, said the latest council resolution was "a first step" in securing the property. The plan for use of the Georgetown Street building must be approved by the Health Services Resource Administration, which is administrating the grant.

North, one of the officials who has urged haste in order to secure the grant, said Thursday he didn't think there was "a significant risk right now" of missing the September deadline and losing the money.

But the negotiations over relocation costs, which have been going on for several weeks, remain crucial and unresolved. Jack Burch, executive director of Community Action Council, said after the city council meeting that he had assurances from Health Commissioner Beth Mills that HealthFirst would be responsible for the relocation costs.

Because the whole deal is contingent on federal approval of a new clinic plan including Georgetown Street, Mills said she couldn't go that far, but she said she hoped HealthFirst could cover the costs. Mills said that if the federal government does not approve the use of grant money for the Community Action relocation, the lease deal would be off. North had no comment on the relocation costs.

The Community Action services at Georgetown Street include the West End Center, the council's central kitchen, a training center, staff offices, a warehouse and a transportation hub.

The training center, offices for staff and the warehouse would need to be moved, Burch said. A preliminary estimate of that cost is $367,000, and Burch said the Community Action Council has applied for that amount from the Department for Health and Human Services to help with relocation. Typically, Burch said, the department doesn't fund the full amount requested.

Asked whether the new plans submitted to the federal government would include a second location — the HealthFirst board has been talking about creating a second clinic in the old Verizon building on Harrodsburg Road since May — North declined to comment.

Reach Mary Meehan at (859) 231-3261 or 1-800-350-5697, Ext. 3261.

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