Health clinic for Lexington's poor might stay at Newtown Pike location after all

mmeehan1@herald-leader.comApril 18, 2012 

Health officials have pieced together a concept they hope can both keep a public health clinic on Lexington's north side and satisfy federal officials allocating money for its day-to-day operations.

The plan would keep the clinic where it has been since 1980 — at 650 Newtown Pike. The clinic annually serves about 17,000 mostly poor people.

Lexington Health Commissioner Dr. Rice Leach and William North, executive director of HealthFirst, the group that runs the clinic, crafted the "concept," as Leach calls it, after essentially the same plan was rejected by the Board of Health last week.

Some agreement is needed by Friday to comply with requirements of an annual, federal grant that helps fund the day-to-day operations of the clinic, Leach said.

Even though the agreement is incomplete and not binding, the two men hope it will satisfy federal officials by showing that the health department and HealthFirst are working together as required.

Before the Board of Health voted to reject the lease for 650 Newtown Pike, North said that could mean the end of a clinic on the north side of town because HealthFirst was out of options. The Board of Health offered instead a building at 1065 Newtown Circle, which had already been considered and rejected by HealthFirst.

Leach said the loose agreement with North "was the best we could do under the circumstances." Leach said he doesn't control the Board of Health or how it votes, but he hopes the board will ultimately approve the agreement he and North have reached.

The board, which is appointed by the mayor, hires and supervises the health commissioner.

In addition to keeping the remaining clinic on the first floor, HealthFirst would add offices on the second floor.

Still in question is how HealthFirst will spend an $11.7 million construction grant to expand services in Lexington. North said he and Leach have been working together for some time on "any and all solutions" to help spend the construction grant before a September deadline. Leach said it's time for all parties, including the health board and the board of HealthFirst, to work together.

"If we lose this grant somebody is going to look pretty stupid," he said.

Ultimately, the success of maintaining that grant depends on the Board of Health reversing the April 9 vote rejecting the lease of the clinic building. The next scheduled meeting of the Board of Health is May 14.

When the $11.7 million grant was announced in October 2010 it was going to provide a newly constructed clinic in a campus-like setting that would serve physical and mental needs of patients. After 17 months, and numerous setbacks, HealthFirst is without a new location on the north side and has not secured a long talked-about second location on the south side of town.

HealthFirst officials have said they've looked at more than 40 properties.

The HealthFirst board, which has already approved staying at 650 Newtown Pike, meets Thursday at 5:30 p.m.

Mary Meehan: (859) 231-3261. Twitter: @bgmoms. Blog: BluegrassMoms.com.

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