Advisory board to address Southland neighbors' concerns about clinic

mmeehan@herald-leader.comAugust 1, 2012 

Concerns over traffic, parking, sewage and those who will be using the public health clinic slated for 496 Southland Drive have made some neighbors uneasy about the clinic's location.

But William North, executive director of HealthFirst Bluegrass, said he's in the process of creating a community advisory board to help address concerns and keep neighbors informed.

The board would meet during the next four to six weeks as plans for the clinic evolve. The community would be invited to a public meeting to review the advisory board's work.

"We are looking for people who have legitimate concerns that we want to address," he said. "What we've got to do is find the right way to get a good mix of people."

The committee is being created after dozens of people — crowd estimates range from 50 to 100 — met with health and city officials last week. Councilman Doug Martin, who represents the area and said he'd received numerous emails about the project, organized the meeting, which did little to calm concerns, he said.

After hearing from Dr. Rice Leach, the Fayette County health commissioner, and representatives from HealthFirst and the city, Martin said he asked the crowd for a show of hands to indicate how many would be OK with the clinic's Southland Drive location if all the concerns were addressed.

"About three people raised their hands," he said.

Interest in the HealthFirst project is intense, he said. "It was a big meeting."

HealthFirst Bluegrass is planning to spend an $11.7 million federal grant to renovate the two-story, 29,000-square-foot building at 496 Southland Drive and an 11,000-square-foot building adjacent to the property for a clinic and offices. The location was approved by the HealthFirst board in May after an extensive search of properties around the city.

One of the main concerns of neighbors was "what kind of people were going to use that clinic," Leach said. Several in the crowd asked whether the clinic would draw homeless people to the area, he said.

The health clinic does serve some homeless people, but they are likely to continue to visit a satellite clinic on Newtown Pike, he said, adding that many of the patients at the HealthFirst clinic on Southland Drive are going to be "working folks who don't have much money to buy insurance."

In fact, the Southland location was picked because of the large number of working, uninsured people living in the area, he said.

An increase in traffic in the area, the availability of parking and whether the sewer system could handle the demands of the clinic also were of concern to some neighbors, Martin said.

It's unclear what the neighbors could do to stop the clinic, he said. The property is zoned appropriately, so there are no development plans that need to be approved by the city. Because it is a renovation, not new construction, oversight is also limited.

North said HealthFirst would address neighborhood concerns. However, because HealthFirst has yet to hire a project manager for the site renovation, there aren't many details to share. HealthFirst is reviewing project manager applications and should make that decision soon, he said.

Anne Hopkins, general manager of nearby Good Foods Market & Café, said continued communication would be key. She said Good Foods was "neutral" on the project because "we don't know a whole lot about it yet."

But she understands neighbors' concerns, she said, especially about parking. And the clinic is moving into an area that has well-known flooding problems.

"We have some serious drainage problems on Southland Drive," she said. Storm water has been known to flood businesses.

But she also sees opportunities to work with the clinic by offering nutrition education to staff and clinic patients. And, of course, as a business leader, she'd like them to stop in and buy healthy, hearty lunches.

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

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