In spite of a pending state audit of the land deal that brought a proposed public health clinic to Southland Drive, the board of HealthFirst Bluegrass voted unanimously Thursday to push forward.
At the behest of board member Jorge Medina, the group gave building committee chairman Tom Burich and the committee a standing ovation. Thursday was the board's self-imposed deadline to decide whether to pull the plug on the $11.7 million federally funded project.
It's been an up and down few weeks for the nonprofit, which is funded primarily though tax dollars. HealthFirst had set the May 16 deadline, citing cascading financial problems. At a meeting May 1, the committee had said deficits from federal cuts and cuts in local tax dollars remained unresolved, and that an internal audit showed HealthFirst losses this year at $515,000, more than double what had been forecast.
But on Tuesday afternoon, North said with an increase in local health tax dollars — approved by the Board of Health last week — and a smaller-than-expected loss tied to the federal budget sequester, the project could move forward.
Earlier Tuesday, Lexington Mayor Jim Gray and state auditor Adam Edelen announced an audit of HealthFirst. Specifically, Edelen said he would be looking at $250,000 in fees and rent paid to project manager Ted J. Mims. Mims, a developer who helped broker the deal for the Southland property, was subsequently hired for $15,000 a month as project manager.
He and his business partner, Greg McDonald, receive about $23,000 a month in rent on the properties, which have been vacant since they were purchased last summer.
The audit is expected to take three to four weeks.
HealthFirst serves about 15,000 patients a year, many of them poor, at a clinic at 650 Newtown Pike. That clinic will continue to operate after HealthFirst opens the new clinic.