HealthFirst to start building clinic at Southland location in July

mmeehan@herald-leader.comJune 10, 2014 

This rendering shows the exterior of the HealthFirst Bluegrass clinic to be built on Southland Drive.

EOP ARCHITECTS

After years of public wrangling, audits, stalemates and a stalled construction project, two of Fayette County's public health agencies appear to be on a firm footing.

HealthFirst Bluegrass plans to begin construction in July on a $11.7 million public health clinic on Southland Drive.

Executive Director Dr. Steve Davis said the final construction bids are in and the HealthFirst board should vote to approve them next week.

With HealthFirst stabilized, the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department will return to its core mission of disease prevention, communicable disease control and public education.

"We are reinventing the department because the world is changing around us," said Health Commissioner Dr. Rice Leach. "We have gotten out of the clinic business."

The two agencies, which operated in tandem for decades, are trying to establish independent identities.

"If you think about going to the doctor, that's what HealthFirst does, when you think about restaurant inspections and vaccinations, that's what we do at the health department," said Board of Health Chairman Scott White.

White praised Davis, and Jack Cornett, the Board of Health's chief financial officer, at Tuesday's city council meeting for working to make the clinic a reality.

Vice Mayor Linda Gorton said HealthFirst and the board have "really worked through some very difficult issues." That includes a state audit, the lack of an appropriate historical evaluation and the forced resignation of former Executive Director William North.

Council member Chris Ford, who serves on the Board of Health, said after all the problems, the community is lucky to have retained the $11.7 million federal grant that will be used for construction.

With HealthFirst stable, White said the Board of Health has added new members who are experts in accounting and human resources. And, he said, the health department is working to let people know exactly what it is that they do.

HealthFirst, a non-profit funded mostly by tax dollars, operates a public health clinic serving about 15,000 mostly poor and uninsured patients.

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

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