HealthFirst board cancels meeting, awaits direction from federal officials

mmeehan1@herald-leader.comSeptember 5, 2013 

With its executive director banned from his office and a $11.7 federal grant in limbo, the board of HealthFirst Bluegrass, which provides health care to thousands in Fayette County, cancelled a special meeting scheduled for Thursday.

Board chairman T.A. Lester said HealthFirst, which operates a public health clinic at 650 Newtown Pike, is waiting to hear from federal officials on how to proceed after a tumultuous week. The meeting will be rescheduled, but he said he didn't know when.

Last week, the Board of Health asked for executive director William North's resignation and asked members of the board of HealthFirst to resign, citing concerns over management and finances.

The HealthFirst board voted unanimously to retain North.

Since then, five HealthFirst board members have resigned, including building committee chairman Tom Burich, who led the stalled efforts to build an $11.7 million public health clinic at 496 Southland Drive.

North said last week that he would continue to work for HealthFirst but has been denied access to his office since Friday, is not allowed to supervise employees and has not been paid since Aug. 29, according to health department spokesman Kevin Hall.

Jack Cornett, the health department's financial director, has been placed in charge of HealthFirst administrative operations, Hall said, and Fayette County Health Commissioner Dr. Rice Leach is overseeing the clinic.

The HealthFirst and Board of Health boards operate independently, but HealthFirst receives $1.2 million from Fayette County in health tax revenues annually and has lent HealthFirst $1.6 million in tax dollars.

HealthFirst, a nonprofit, serves about 17,000 patients a year at the Newtown Pike clinic. 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 health department and HealthFirst both operate out of the Newtown Pike location.

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

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