Friday, March 18, 2011

Changes are needed to help Lexington, Ky., care center get federal grant, officials say

From The Lexington Herald-Leader in Kentucky:

An $11.7 million construction grant to help meet the medical needs of Lexington's poorest citizens is not "at risk," but there is an end to the patience of the agency providing the money.

That's the assessment of William North, executive director of Lexington's Primary Care Center, who made a presentation to the Primary Care Governing Board on March 17.

The care center serves 17,000 people a year and has an annual budget of more than $10 million. It operates under the umbrella of the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department.

The grant, from the federal Health Resources and Service Administration, was announced with fanfare in October. But it ran into trouble when federal officials said a proposed partnership with Bluegrass Regional Mental Health-Mental Retardation Board violated key criteria for receiving the money. Under the original agreement, the mental health board was to provide $2.4 million worth of land. The partnership has since been dissolved.

In addition, in December, federal officials noted several other issues, including the need for the Primary Care Center to operate independently of the county health department.

Dr. Rice Leach, the county health commissioner, told the Primary Care Governing Board on Thursday that the care center will be independent soon.

The center also will begin requesting a specific annual allocation from health tax revenue. "We will no longer be addressing whether the money is there or not there," North said.

Officials have long debated whether the care center should be independent and how tax dollars should be divided between the care center, which provides medical and dental care, and other divisions that support public health.

Since the department began receiving health-tax money in 2005, the tax has provided about $38 million to the health department — most of it going to public health.

The issue of independence is the latest upheaval at the health department. Dr. Melinda Rowe, the previous commissioner, and another top official resigned March 1 because of employees' complaints about management style. Rowe, who was paid $178,000 a year, remains on leave while Leach decides whether she can stay on in a non-leadership role.

In addition, the health department is being investigated by the state Office of the Inspector General — part of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services — and the Kentucky Board of Pharmacy.