Health clinic will stay on north side

mmeehan1@herald-leader.comApril 30, 2012 

It's official.

After months of looking for other ways to spend a $11.7 million grant to expand health care, the public health clinic on Lexington's north side will stay where it has been for 30 years.

The Lexington-Fayette County Board of Health held a special meeting Monday and voted to allow HealthFirst Bluegrass to stay at its current location, 650 Newtown Pike.

"We have done a significant thing," Board of Health chairman Dr. Gary Wallace said.

The unanimous vote, board member Scott White said, reflects the desire of both the Board of Health and HealthFirst to keep a clinic on the north side of Lexington.

The vote on a 20-point proposal by Health Commissioner Dr. Rice Leach resolved not only the lease but the longstanding debate between the Board of Health and HealthFirst over how public tax dollars should be divided and used.

That debate has gone on since shortly after the tax, which has generated about $37 million for public health, was put into place in 2005. Even before the final vote Monday, Board of Health members expressed concern that the allocation would hamper the health department's ability to fulfill its mission, which includes immunizations, responding to health emergencies and restaurant inspections.

But the board ultimately allocated $1.2 million a year for five years to HealthFirst, which provides primary care to mostly uninsured patients.

William North, executive director for HealthFirst, said the vote allows his organization to move forward in spending the federal grant, that was awarded in October 2010 and is set to expire in September.

Plans to use the grant money for clinic renovations should be ready by the next meeting of the HealthFirst board of directors in May, North said.

HealthFirst also is looking for clinic space on the south side of Lexington.

HealthFirst, which has an annual budget of about $10 million, and the health department, which has an annual budget of about $17 million, are funded primarily through federal, state and local tax dollars.

Finding a new clinic space has been a drawn-out process, with HealthFirst officials looking at more than 40 properties, including others on Lexington's north side. The Board of Health voted April 9 against letting HealthFirst stay at its current location, but it re-examined the use of health department-owned buildings to allow the clinic to stay, Leach said.

Leach said the next challenge facing the health department is shrinking revenues. He said the health department might be "looking at a significant reduction in force."

Last June, the health department and HealthFirst, formerly known as the Primary Care Center, eliminated 44 positions either through layoffs or by not filling open jobs.

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

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