Facing a $2 million budget cut for the 2012-2013 fiscal year, the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department has had to trim both staff and services. But to lessen the impact, the health department is working with HealthFirst Bluegrass to preserve some of its programs and adjust to the changes.
Dr. Rice Leach, Lexington’s health commissioner, said that this new relationship will be beneficial for any future challenges or budget cuts public health may face.
“The kind of relationship that is being built here between this organization and HealthFirst puts us in better shape to deal with whatever curveball they’re going to throw at us next year,” Leach said.
“The approach to a budget decrease was to figure out how to preserve as much of the programs as we could but prepare us for the future at the same time collectively,” said William North, executive director of HealthFirst, a private heath group that replaced the health department’s Primary Care Center at 650 Newtown Pike.
HealthFirst is a nonprofit organization and a Federally Qualified Health Center. The organization has been serving patients for nearly 30 years and was established as a nonprofit July 1, 2011.
North noted that by working together, HealthFirst and the health department will create a unique public health system.
“As public health really focuses on what it’s most efficient and good at doing, and HealthFirst focuses on what it’s very good at doing, and we find those places in between where we can help each other out, we create a system for Lexington and Fayette County that really doesn’t exist today.”
The health department has had to cut such services as breast and cervical cancer assessments, adult immunizations and physical examinations, child immunizations, family planning services, and pregnancy testing.
However, HealthFirst will fill some of the void by providing services for breast and cervical cancer patients who are currently in the health department program the health department took some of the leftover budgets for these services and passed the money to HealthFirst to continue the breast and cervical cancer programs and some family planning services at least for the near future, said Dr. Rice Leach, Lexington’s health commissioner.
“Too many women have come to rely on the health department and its associates to cover those things. We took as much money as we could afford to and sent it over to the HealthFirst group,” Leach said. “HealthFirst is picking up as much of that workload as it can.”
Immunizations are one service that will no longer be available immediately.
“You can’t just walk in here and get a shot anytime you want to,” Leach said. “You’re going to have to plan it and get it somewhere else. Outbreaks, epidemics, we’re going to do what we’ve always done. But getting a routine shot to get into college because you forgot to get it before you came to register, you’re going to have to get it somewhere else.”
HealthFirst operates on an appointment basis but does accept same-day appointments for some services. Visit HealthFirst’s website for clinic hours, services and more information.
Using appointment scheduling is part of HealthFirst’s effort to create a “medical home” for their patients where they can experience full-scale primary care, Leach said.
“We want individuals who maybe don’t really understand how to use the health care system, or the barriers to using it have kept them away…we want to eliminate those barriers so that people can access us, just like an insured person could go to their doctor and get preventive care, shots, get their prescriptions filled,” North said.
North also mentioned that HealthFirst is a patient-driven clinic in that their 13 member board is made up of seven people who are patients with the clinic who understand the services provided from first-hand experience.
“As we take on more of the clinical services that the health department is stopping, it’s going to be driven more by consumer, by patient, because they’re going to the ones who are going to be driving some of the decision process of how we do it,” North said.
While HeathFirst takes over some of the health department services, it will also double its capacity to see patients once construction is completed on its new facility in the south side of Lexington, North said.
Though patients will notice some of the changes during the transition of services, they will still see many familiar faces in the clinic, Leach said, due to the fact that HealthFirst filled existing vacancies with some health department employees, as well as hiring about 50 percent of the nearly 30 public health employees that were laid off because of budget cuts.
One benefit of HealthFirst taking over clinic responsibilities and case management, the health department can focus its time and resources more on “things that nobody else can do for Lexington,” Leach said.
“Things I call ‘mission-critical,’ like controlling outbreaks of communicable disease and preventing those things. And the regulatory function of checking on restaurants and public health nuisances, and large scale public health education, and disaster preparedness…these are things that either nobody else is prepared to do or has the legal authority to do,” Leach said.
Visit the health department’s website for additional information.