Waste of money worth scrutiny; health clinic plan may be abandoned

From the outside — perhaps even from the inside — it is virtually impossible to sort out what has gone wrong, why and who's to blame in the effort to open a new public health clinic in Lexington.

But there's definitely something wrong. So wrong that State Auditor Adam Edelen should have a look at this entire mess.

HealthFirst Bluegrass has now spent about a quarter of a million dollars of public funds to develop a clinic to serve the poor and those without enough insurance.

But last week, HealthFirst said it might abandon the project, largely because of ongoing financial concerns.

If so, the only person who would have benefited from the federal funds is the developer.

Reading reporter Mary Meehan's story Thursday, it appears that not one dollar has gone to providing health services while developer Ted Mims, part owner of the building HealthFirst had settled on, has collected $120,000 in salary for managing the project.

Mims and partners purchased 496 Southland Drive for $625,000 on May 17, 2012 and HealthFirst announced May 29 that it would locate the clinic there.

In August, HealthFirst hired Mims, at $15,000 a month, as project manager.

Since that time, HealthFirst has spent a total of more than $320,000 on design services and site preparation.

Although there's no clinic occupying the building, HealthFirst's rent for the property has been $23,000 a month since March.

Although Mims told Meehan the work done is "of no value to him," the value of 496 Southland has risen 44 percent, to $902,000, according to property records, since it was purchased last year.

There can't be any arms-length dealings when Mims owns 10 percent of the building and is being paid — handsomely — to advise HealthFirst on its redevelopment.

If the project is abandoned, HealthFirst will have wasted a lot of taxpayer money set aside to provide health care to people who desperately need it and can't afford it.

The public deserves a thorough investigation of this tangled mess and a full report on what went wrong and how to avoid such missteps in the future.