An $11.7 million federal grant for a 60,000-square-foot center to provide mental and physical health care for Lexington's poor and homeless is in jeopardy.
"I am still holding out hope, but I am discouraged," said Shannon Ware, president of the Bluegrass Regional Mental Health-Mental Retardation Board.
The board was going to partner with the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department and the Lexington Primary Care Center.
The health department is an independent agency that receives local, state and federal money for community health. The primary care center, which comes under the umbrella of the health department but has its own governing board, provides medical and dental clinic services for poor children and adults and is the recipient of the grant.
Each group would play to their strengths, Ware said. The board would provide mental health care. The primary care center would provide for physical care.
But as the federal grant moved forward, the federal Health Resources and Services Administration required that Lexington's primary care center change the scope of its care. Kevin Hall, a spokesman for the health department, said essentially the federal authorities wanted the health department — not the mental health board — to provide in-patient mental health services at the center.
That presented a significant problem, he said, because the mental health board was donating three acres on Newtown Pike valued at about $2.4 million to the effort under the assumption that they would be part of the equation.
Hall said the health department originally had until Feb. 17 to find new land or create an alternative proposal to receive the money, which is part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. He said an extension for finding the land had been given by the federal government, but on Friday it was not clear how long the extension was.
Ware said the mental health board is still willing to collaborate with the health department and primary care center. But, she said, it has been a frustrating process.
Although the original federal grant application clearly spelled out what each organization would do, the grant administrators are a different group than those who approved the original application.
"Imagine that the left hand and the right hand are not talking to each other in Washington," she said.
While the health department searches for a suitable location, the mental health board is also facing challenges.
Eastern State Hospital on Newtown Pike is being torn down, and the board will eventually lose space it now uses there for substance abuse treatment and patients in crisis.
Those services were supposed to be relocated to the new center on Newtown Pike that was to be created by the partnership.
"I have a very short window to get something under construction," she said.