Health & Medicine

HealthFirst is short of money, needs to attract more patients, Board of Health is told

Steve Davis
Steve Davis

HealthFirst Bluegrass will lose $300,000 by the end of 2013 even under the best of circumstances, the Fayette Board of Health was told at its meeting Tuesday.

Board members heard a lengthy presentation on the prospects for HealthFirst, which has been in turmoil for much of 2013.

Dr. Steve Davis, interim director of HealthFirst, is proposing a series of steps to immediately increase HealthFirst revenues. Among them:

■ Increase the total number of patients using HealthFirst as their "medical home." The number is now 17,000.

■ Step up outreach efforts in the community to gain new patients and more visits from established patients.

■ Create a larger system of "same-day appointments" for patients who call needing service.

■ Modify employee scheduling to extend weekday clinic hours and begin offering clinic hours on Saturday.

In January, 25,000 people in Fayette County and tens of thousands more in surrounding counties will be eligible for Medicaid under new standards. So HealthFirst needs to be ready for a possible influx of new patients.

The health department is playing a larger role in the day-to-day management of HealthFirst after an extended argument with HealthFirst's board following a Kentucky auditor's report this year that criticized HealthFirst's financial practices. HealthFirst, a nonprofit organization, serves about 17,000 patients a year at a clinic at 650 Newtown Pike and wants to build a new clinic on Southland Drive.

William North, director of HealthFirst, resigned in September. Nine HealthFirst board members also resigned, leaving only three on the board.

Davis said the Board of Health is seeking 12 members for the HealthFirst board, after which a new election will be held for board officers.

Davis and Dr. Rice Leach, the Lexington-Fayette County health commissioner, said that the goal is for HealthFirst to become an independent organization that can assume the financial oversight of getting a Southland Drive clinic built and operational.

Once that happens, patients would visit the HealthFirst on Southland, with a smaller presence retained at what would be called HealthFirst on Newtown Pike. Leach told the health board members that consumers do not like the Health Department name for their primary care, so stepping up HealthFirst's name recognition among patients is important.

Jack Cornett, the health department financial director who is now overseeing HealthFirst finances, said HealthFirst ran a $63,000 deficit for the third quarter and has low cash reserves, in part because of the time lapse in collecting Medicaid payments.

Total revenue for the quarter was more than $500,000 off the budgeted amount, Cornett said.

Board of Health chairman Scott White, speaking via teleconference for the board meeting, said that the interim managers had found that HealthFirst finances and operations were deeply flawed, but there is still time to turn that around.

Davis credited the medical providers of HealthFirst, saying they are "rolling their sleeves up with a passion to see that this does succeed."

The board did not vote at Tuesday's meeting but will formally address the issues at its meeting on Oct. 14.

The HealthFirst and Board of Health boards each operate independently, but HealthFirst receives $1.2 million in Fayette County health tax revenue annually. The county health department's services include communicable disease control, school health, health education and counseling, nutritional education and counseling, and restaurant and hotel regulations and inspections.

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