Outlook bleak for HealthFirst Bluegrass, interim director tells new board

mmeehan@herald-leader.comNovember 14, 2013 

HealthFirst had planned to raze this building at 496 Southland Drive in Lexington and replace it with a clinic.

PHOTO BY PABLO ALCALA | STAFF — Lexington Herald-Leader Buy Photo

Hoping to end months of turmoil and uncertainty, the HealthFirst Bluegrass board on Thursday instead peered into a daunting future and got few answers.

"We have a boatload of work and a lot of decisions," said Dr. Steve Davis, interim executive director.

Thursday night's was the first board meeting since the majority of the board and Executive Director William North resigned in September, and Davis let the new body know that things are going to be tough.

He said it looks as if HealthFirst will end the year losing money, although there is an effort underway to turn that around by expanding hours and increasing the ease with which patients can make appointments.

Davis said HealthFirst will no longer receive loans from the Fayette County Board of Health. In the last few years, HealthFirst Bluegrass has borrowed about $2.2 million from the Board of Health. Additionally, HealthFirst receives about $1.2 million a year in health tax dollars collected in Fayette County.

The answer to securing HealthFirst's financial future, Davis said, is to reduce the number of HealthFirst patients who don't have health insurance. Currently, about half of HealthFirst patients have no insurance.

In the only motion of the night, the HealthFirst board voted to leave any negotiations between North and his attorney over severance to be led by Board of Health attorney Phil Scott. Scott said North never had a contract with HealthFirst. Attorney Richard Getty, who is supporting North, had said offers made to his client have been insufficient.

Other ongoing issues faced by the new board are the status of a proposed $11.7 million public health clinic on Southland Drive, and the results of a federal inquiry into the hiring of developer Ted J. Mims as project manager for the Southland Drive project.

The Health Resources Services Administration, which is overseeing the grant, asked for information about the hiring of Mims. A state auditor's report this summer raised questions as to whether Mims, a co-owner of the property where the clinic is to be built, had been preselected for the $15,000-a-month job in violation of federal competitive bid rules.

Mims has maintained he was hired properly. An HRSA spokesman Thursday said that investigation is not complete.

The clinic project has been in limbo since January, when concerns over potential historic value were brought forth. Since then, HealthFirst officials have repeatedly threatened to pull the plug on the project.

HealthFirst, a nonprofit funded mostly by tax dollars, operates a public health clinic serving about 15,000 mostly poor and uninsured patients. The HealthFirst board will meet again next Thursday.

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

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