HealthFirst executive director resigns; interim replacement is appointed

mmeehan1@herald-leader.comSeptember 19, 2013 

Dr. Steve Davis

After a monthlong standoff, HealthFirst Bluegrass executive director William North resigned Thursday.

HealthFirst board chairman T.A. Lester said the board accepted North's resignation with prejudice. Lester then announced that he and three other board members are resigning. Five board members had previously resigned.

That fulfills most of the requests from the Fayette County Board of Health, which fired North a month ago and asked for the full board to resign. Three HealthFirst board members — James Sleet, Bill Rasinen and Elena Castro — have not resigned.

The HealthFirst board voted on North's resignation after emerging from a 2½-hour closed meeting. North's interim replacement, Dr. Steve Davis, was announced by Lexington-Fayette County Health Commissioner Dr. Rice Leach minutes later.

Davis was acting commissioner of the state Department of Public Health from 2010 to 2012. He has been a pediatrician for nearly 40 years.

"He's got the management experience, and he has the temperament," Leach said. "He believes in our mission."

Leach said Davis also has experience in handling federal grants. HealthFirst is trying to spend $11.7 million to build a new health clinic on Southland Drive.

The hiring of Davis is the latest twist for the operation of HealthFirst and its public health clinic. The HealthFirst and Board of Health boards operate separately but share some functions, such as human resources. Because of that, HealthFirst employees technically work for the Board of Health, which fired North. He has not been paid since Aug. 28.

Before going into closed session, Rasinen and Sleet asked that the discussions be held in public. Lester had the board record on pieces of paper their votes on whether to go into closed session. The vote was 5-2 to go into closed session. The Kentucky open meetings law does not allow secret paper ballots in a public meeting. When asked about paper ballots before the vote, HealthFirst attorney Ed Receski first said he expected the names of the voting members to be read. After the vote, he shrugged and said the board chairman could do what he wanted.

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, and the Board of Health has lent HealthFirst $1.6 million in tax dollars.

HealthFirst, a nonprofit, serves about 17,000 patients a year, many of them poor, 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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