Health & Medicine

Deadline extended again for Southland Drive public health clinic

HealthFirst had planned to raze this building at 496 Southland Drive in Lexington and replace it with a clinic.
HealthFirst had planned to raze this building at 496 Southland Drive in Lexington and replace it with a clinic. Lexington Herald-Leader

The federal government has again extended the deadline for construction to begin on a public health clinic on Southland Drive in Lexington, but the administrative turmoil that made the extension necessary continues.

Kevin Hall, spokesman for the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department, said the new deadline is March 31, 2014, to begin construction on the clinic, to be funded with an $11.7 million federal grant.

"If we don't have construction started by March 31 we have trouble of a major kind," said Dr. Rice Leach, Fayette County Commissioner of Public Health.

Leach has said federal officials are not likely to provide another, third, extension. The grant was issued in 2010 for a clinic that would handle the expected surge of new patients under the Affordable Care Act.

But the extension does not settle issues at HealthFirst Bluegrass, the non-profit in charge of building the clinic.

Among the questions still unresolved:

■ Who serves on the board that runs the clinic?

■ When will construction begin?

■ Who is overseeing construction manager Ted J. Mims, who makes $1,500 a week?

■ Have severance issues been resolved with former executive director William North?

A convoluted relationship between the health department and HealthFirst and months of administrative upheaval make answers to those questions difficult. The two tax-funded entities worked in tandem on operations but with different boards until May 2011. HealthFirst then broke off to become an independent non-profit to satisfy specifics of the federal grant to build the clinic.

But financial trouble surfaced for HealthFirst by May 2012, followed by an investigation and critical report by State Auditor Adam Edelen. Through much of August and September, the boards of HealthFirst and the Lexington-Fayette County Board of Health held a series of meetings springing from concerns raised in the audit.

On Sept. 19, HealthFirst executive director William North resigned. All but three members of the board resigned after the Board of Health threatened to withdraw $1.2 million in local health tax dollars given annually to HealthFirst. The Board of Health has also loaned HealthFirst $1.6 million in tax dollars.

Bill Rasinen, one of the members who did not resign, said Thursday that HealthFirst will hold a special meeting next week to review a slate of candidates presented to them by the Board of Health. Rasinen said he has also asked for additional information, such as résumés of potential board members, but has not yet received them.

HealthFirst, a non-profit, serves about 15,000 patients a year, many of them poor, at a clinic at 650 Newtown Pike. That clinic continues to operate and serve patients.

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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