Fayette County Board of Health votes to fire HealthFirst executive director

ctruman@herald-leader.comAugust 28, 2013 

Former HealthFirst Executive Director William North, right, received an $80,000 severance deal after being asked to resign.

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The Fayette County Board of Health on Wednesday fired HealthFirst Bluegrass executive director William North from his job with the health department.

Because HealthFirst and the health department used to be a joint operation, HealthFirst employees still technically work for the Board of Health.

Wednesday's move effectively terminated North's salary and ability to continue to do his job, but the Board of Health nonetheless asked the HealthFirst board to also vote to dismiss North.

The Board of Health also voted to take some aggressive stances with the HealthFirst board, which health board chairman Scott White said was "recalcitrant" in addressing financial and management concerns about HealthFirst.

The HealthFirst and Board of Health boards each operate independently, but HealthFirst receives $1.2 million from Fayette County in health tax revenues annually and has loaned HealthFirst $1.6 million in tax dollars. HealthFirst, a nonprofit, serves about 17,000 patients a year at a clinic at 650 Newtown Pike. The county health department's services include communicable disease control, school health, health education and counseling, nutritional education and counseling, and restaurant and hotel regulations and inspections.

The Board of Health on Wednesday voted to ask the HealthFirst board of directors to resign; to put health department financial executive Jack Cornett in charge of HealthFirst on an interim basis, effective immediately; and to cut off further funding of HealthFirst if its board should fail to comply.

"We've got to start looking like we know what we're doing with this money to the people who live here," said Fayette County Health Commissioner Rice Leach.

Board of Health members said that they had been in contact with the administrators of an $11.7 million federal grant for a new public health clinic and said they think they are taking appropriate measures to retain that money. Concerns about HealthFirst's performance prompted a recent audit by state Auditor Adam Edelen.

Deborah Stanley, medical director of HealthFirst, asked whether the threat to cut off funding meant that the organization's medical employees would not be paid. Numerous employees of HealthFirst attended the meeting, although North was not present.

White said HealthFirst employees would be paid for work they have done and continue to do. However, Leach said that future patient care is at stake if the HealthFirst board does not comply with the Board of Health mandates.

The Board of Health voted to meet with resigning HealthFirst board members to help form a new board.

The Board of Health votes were almost all unanimous, with Chris Ford, who is also a member of the Urban County Council, abstaining on one motion.

The HealthFirst board is scheduled to meet Thursday. Last week, it voted unanimously to retain North. North makes $100,000 a year and oversees 138 employees.

Cheryl Truman: (859)231-3202. Twitter: @CherylTruman.

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