HealthFirst Bluegrass seeks more time for solutions

mmeehan1@herald-leader.comSeptember 12, 2013 

The struggle over the future of the tax-funded public health clinic that serves thousands of poor and uninsured patients continued Thursday as the board of HealthFirst Bluegrass met a request for action with a request for a meeting.

After spending nearly three hours in closed session the board of HealthFirst returned to the open meeting noticeably spent. Chairman T.A. Lester read a motion asking the Board of Health for a meeting to discuss the "possible implementation" of a list of mandates by the Board of Health.

On Monday the Board of Health voted to end funding for HealthFirst and seek another partner to build the $11.7 million clinic at 496 Southland Drive.

The Board of Health had previously voted to fire Executive Director William North and asked the board of HealthFirst to resign.

North, who makes $100,000 a year, has not been paid since Aug. 28. Five board members have resigned. The other employees of HealthFirst have retained their jobs and benefits.

Board of Health Chairman Scott White on Thursday laid out what he saw as the next steps for the two groups. White had said earlier that searching for another partner would begin immediately. Thursday he said HealthFirst as an entity could remain part of the process, but only if there's new leadership. North would be replaced and all board members would resign except for Lester and Dr. John Loventhal, a physician. Other members of the board, including those who already resigned, would be able to reapply to be part of a reconstituted board, White said, but would be required to undergo two different sets of training on how to serve on a board.

"It is not negotiable," said White, standing at a podium just across the room from the board and North. "I don't mean that in a disrespectful way but we need to cut bait and move on down the road."

"We are not interested in fighting anymore," he said.

Each board operates independently, but the Board of Health has a financial investment in the HealthFirst operation. HealthFirst receives $1.2 million from Fayette County in health tax revenues annually. The Board of Health has also loaned HealthFirst $1.6 million in tax dollars. The two groups were co-applicants on the $11.7 construction grant.

The recent struggles began after Kentucky State Auditor Adam Edelen investigated HealthFirst and raised concerns about how developer Ted J. Mims was picked as project manager for the Southland Drive project. The audit report claimed Mims was preselected over other candidates for the $15,000 a month job. The audit also raised questions about HealthFirst finances. The auditor in particular raised concerns about what was described as overly aggressive projections of patient growth.

North has maintained the auditor's report raised no serious concerns. Richard Getty, who is representing both Mims and North, said the hiring of Mims was sound. Mims did not attend Thursday's meeting.

A budget revised by North after the audit report, which took into account a layoff of 14 employees, was presented to the Board of Health Monday. Jack Cornett said that budget represented a more conservative estimate of patient growth. Cornett said that after a month, the budget seemed to be on track but it's too soon to know what will happen in the long term.

HealthFirst, a nonprofit, serves about 17,000 patients a year mostly 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.

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

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