Former HealthFirst director North gets $80,000 in severance deal

mmeehan1@herald-leader.comMarch 10, 2014 

A former HealthFirst Bluegrass official who was forced to resign in August will receive $80,000 in severance pay.

The Lexington Fayette County Board of Health unanimously approved the deal reached with former executive director William North on Monday.

"Thank you very much and hooray," said Board Chairman Scott White, after the vote.

White said taking the case to court could cost the Lexington Fayette County Health Department at least $100,000 so it seemed prudent to settle. HealthFirst was part of the health department when North was hired in August 2010. HealthFirst is now a separate nonprofit. North was paid $100,000 a year to run the public health clinic, which is funded mostly through tax dollars.

"In my judgment it is a fair and reasonable settlement," said White.

White said the outstanding claim by North was a diversion from the other work of the board.

"It's time to move forward and put this behind us. It's in the best interest of those who need health care services and of the community as a whole that this package is accepted and we close this chapter," said Mayor Jim Gray, who is a member of the board and attended Monday's meeting.

"My client is very, very happy," said Attorney Richard Getty, who negotiated the deal for North. According to White, North had originally asked for $200,000. HealthFirst will set up a payment plan to reimburse the Board of Health the $80,000, White said.

The severance deal ties up most of the loose ends left after North departed HealthFirst. When he left in August, the future of the $11.7 million construction project was in limbo and HealthFirst's financial stability was in question. Things have improved under Dr. Steve Davis, and HealthFirst recently announced a renegotiated, money-saving deal to begin construction on the clinic on Southland Drive.

Kentucky State Auditor Adam Edelen examined the original Southland deal and issued a report in the summer of 2013 that raised concerns about the hiring of Ted J. Mims as project manager, the financial stability of the agency and the inclusion of a "developer's lot" to be retained by Mims and his business partner, Greg McDonald.

The HealthFirst board also voted twice, in May and August of 2013, to pull the plug on the construction project because of financial woes.

Ultimately, four members of the HealthFirst board of directors quit along with North.

The only outstanding issue from North's tenure is a Health Resource Service Administration review of how approximately $1 million in tax money already invested in Southland has been spent. HRSA officials said a draft report of their review should be complete in two months. It will be sent to the new HealthFirst board of directors and be made public after that.

North is now working as chief executive officer of the Community Health Clinic in Medford, Ore., a federally funded public health clinic with an annual budget of $8 million and 106 employees.

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

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