Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

November 25, 2013

Board reverses decision on Olive Hill center

Joe Lewis

GRAYSON — The Carter County Board of Health voted last week to reverse its decision to close its Olive Hill Health Center.

The action came during a meeting to hear feedback from the public regarding the proposed closure, proposed due to a budget shortfall in the Little Sandy District Health Department.

The initial vote to shutter the Olive Hill location was taken on Nov. 4. It was met with a public outcry.

“I know there’s some disagreement as to whether or not we actually did anything wrong. Just the fact that it’s been brought into question makes me think that we need to revisit it,” said board member Willie Patton.

A projected $400,000 budget deficit was cited as justification for the original decision.

An outpouring of citizens and elected officials, mostly from Olive Hill, came to voice their opposition to that decision in meetings Nov. 20 and again on Nov. 18.

Layoffs, voluntary furloughs, and a recent tax increase have been implemented in an effort to bridge the money gap, but recent revelations about the department’s budget paint a dire picture.

“We’re looking at all the clinics being consolidated and there will still have to be layoffs on top of that,” said Janet Cline, a community member who was present at both meetings.

Adding to the financial woes is the uncertainty of the impact of the Affordable Care Act on services the department will be able to offer in the future. The new law requires that health departments work to find “health homes” for patients who do not currently have regular providers.

That mandate effectively phases public health departments out of clinical services. Their new function will be to find primary care facilities for patients who historically have sought clinical care at health departments.

There also are questions about services for which the health department will be allowed to bill under newly-expanded Medicaid.

With drastic changes to the types of services offered, reduction in clinical function and looming Medicaid issues, the financial and organizational makeup of the department is difficult to predict, officials said.

“Looking forward a year from now, the health department will likely be very different from what it has been in the past,” said Dr. Kari Shields, board chair.

After two hours of discussion, the board unanimously voted to table any further action until more concrete data can be obtained.

A recently-conducted audit of the department’s financial records will play a key role in determining the board’s future course of action. Those findings will be presented to the public at the next regular meeting of the Little Sandy District Health Department, scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Dec. 11 at the Carter County Courthouse.