Neighbors air concerns about planned Southland Drive health clinic

mmeehan1@herald-leader.comAugust 16, 2012 

As HealthFirst Bluegrass moved ahead with plans to create a public health clinic at 496 Southland Drive, nearby residents aired concerns Thursday about the neighborhood impact.

"It's not a glamorous place, but it's a good place," said Helen Morrison, who choked up as she spoke to the HealthFirst board Thursday. Morrison and Tee Bergman were officially representing the Mitchell Neighborhood Association, made up of about 10 homeowners.

They said their two-page list of recommendations and concerns was culled from discussions with other residential and business groups.

The location of the clinic, funded through an $11.7 million federal grant, was announced in May. Homeowners' concerns were first made public in late July when dozens met with HealthFirst representatives and city officials.

Morrison, who is on a HealthFirst advisory board created to ease the transition, said she thought the full board needed to hear residents' concerns.

Traffic, parking and stormwater run-off topped the list, she said.

Morrison also presented board members with a map that she said showed that a Southland location is not the best way to fulfill the clinic's mission of serving the poor and those without access to affordable health care. She said census data shows substantial populations living in poverty who aren't served by a federal clinic elsewhere in Lexington, including east of downtown and the areas south of New Circle, including the Centre Parkway area. Those areas, she said, are "areas that could really use your help."

HealthFirst, a primary care clinic supported mostly through tax dollars, serves about 17,000 patients a year, many of them poor. That number is expected to increase because of upcoming changes in national health care. HealthFirst officials have said they are also hoping to attract patients with health insurance.

Board member Tom Burich made it clear Thursday he doesn't expect the location to change.

Four public meetings will be scheduled to discuss how to make the project work. But, he said, the meetings will not be "about 'how we can stop you'."

Burich, who is the chairman of the board's building committee, said a project manager — Ted J. Mims — has been hired after reviewing 25 applications. Mims was introduced as the owner of the property when the Southland deal was first approved and it was announced that HealthFirst would lease the property from Mims for 10 years with the option to buy.

HealthFirst Executive Director William North declined Thursday to say how much Mims will be paid to oversee the multimillion-dollar renovation.

According to property tax records, the building was in foreclosure a few weeks before the leasing deal was announced in May. It was valued at $650,000.

Burich said Thursday that Mims is only a minority owner. Both Burich and board chairman Thomas Lester said Mims was best qualified because he has experience with multimillion-dollar deals and is familiar with the area.

Ultimately, HealthFirst plans to operate on Southland Drive and at two satellite clinics at 650 Newtown Pike, the current location of the public health clinic, and 2433 Regency Road. Both buildings are owned by the Lexington Fayette County Health Department.

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

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