HealthFirst Bluegrass is asked to submit plan to address auditor's concerns

mmeehan@herald-leader.comAugust 12, 2013 

HealthFirst Bluegrass has been asked to present by Friday an action plan to address concerns raised in a report last month by State Auditor Adam Edelen.

After a closed, hourlong executive session of the Lexington-Fayette County Board of Health on Monday evening, Mayor Jim Gray made a motion that HealthFirst provide the board with the report. The board approved the motion unanimously.

Board chairman Scott White said he was concerned about public statements HealthFirst made about the auditor's report. He said HealthFirst officials didn't seem to appreciate the serious nature of the auditor's findings. He said they were "completely delusional" in their response to the findings, which they outlined on the editorial page of the Herald-Leader on Aug. 5. The op-ed piece by two HealthFirst officials said the auditor's report had found "no wrongdoing."

During Monday's meeting, White also denied HealthFirst executive director William North a chance to present his regular monthly update on HealthFirst business.

North had no comment on the motion or being asked not to make his presentation.

White acknowledged that the board of health has no authority to force HealthFirst into action, but he said he hoped officials would do the right thing and respond as directed.

HealthFirst, a nonprofit that operates a public health clinic serving mostly the poor and those without insurance, is funded primarily with tax dollars. It is trying to spend an $11.7 million federal grant to build a clinic at 496 Southland Drive. The clinic was supposed to open this summer, but construction has not begun. A tentative construction start has been set for October.

The audit began in May at Gray's request amid concerns about the specifics of the land deal leading to the construction of a clinic on Southland Drive. The auditor's report found the land deal itself to be acceptable but raised other concerns.

Edelen said the HealthFirst building committee and North pre-selected Ted J. Mims as project manager for the clinic and then made sure the criteria used to score candidates would favor their chosen candidate. There did not appear to have been any consideration of the cost of the project management service or any interviews conducted with other candidates to determine whether they were more qualified, according to the report. The auditor also found that Mims had a conflict of interest because he owns 10 percent of the property where the clinic will be built.

Richard Getty, Mims' attorney, has said that Mims' contract included a clause guaranteeing he would serve only the best interests of HealthFirst and that the hiring process was sound.

The auditor's report also said HealthFirst had serious cash-flow problems. North has denied that.

In a building committee meeting last week, there was no discussion of the conflict-of-interest issues. Instead, committee chairman Tom Burich, an author of the op-ed piece, apologized to Mims for the concerns that have been raised and praised the work he has done. Mims is being paid $15,000 a month to oversee construction.

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

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