Confusing moves by health board

Now more than ever, when so many people have lost jobs or health insurance, Lexington needs a medical safety net.

Yet, for some unexplained reason, the Board of Health has become hostile to the primary care clinic that serves 17,000 mostly poor and uninsured patients.

It's all very confusing because the Board of Health likes to conduct its business in secret, even though its business is overseeing the expenditure of millions of taxpayer dollars.

At its most recent meeting, the board emerged from a closed session and refused to let the clinic, now known as HealthFirst and governed by its own board, stay in the health department building, where it has long been a fixture and a public asset.

The board offered a lease on a smaller building with inadequate parking, even though the clinic's director had told the board the best option is for the clinic to stay put.

The uncertainty over the future risks both an $11.7 million federal grant to expand clinical space and the federal grant that provides day-to-day funding to the clinic.

The board needs to resolve this impasse or publicly explain just what the problem is.

Why hold up a grant that could be used to double the clinic's capacity? Why thwart efforts to establish a satellite clinic in south Lexington?

The need is indisputable. In the last five years the percentage of Fayette County public school students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches has climbed from around a third to half the population.

Those families, pushed from the middle class by the economic downturn, need somewhere to turn for primary health care.

The Board of Health should be looking for ways to help finance the expansion. With the right kind of support, the clinic could begin attracting more insured patients, generating revenue to support its critical public mission.

If the board can't get its act together, Mayor Jim Gray should step in because a city that won't take care of its people can't prosper.

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