WHITLEY CITY — [UPDATE: A special meeting of McCreary County Fiscal Court has been called for Wednesday, Feb. 20, at 6 p.m.]
The McCreary County Fiscal Court tabled approval of a resolution supporting a grant application to construct a new 24-hour medical facility after extending the period for public comment.
The court held a public hearing at 3:30 p.m. Thursday, just prior to the February meeting which was to begin at 4 p.m. But the hearing went some 15 minutes over the allotted time as citizens spoke out — largely against — the proposed urgent treatment center.
The $625,000 Kentucky Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), if approved, would be added to a $522,000 commitment from the Burkesville-based Cumberland Family Medical Center Inc. toward the construction of a 10,000 square-foot urgent care facility and helipad on a 3.63-acre site just north of the Whitley City Church of God. Additional grant applications are being prepared for the Economic Development Administration as well as the Appalachian Regional Commission with the entire project estimated to cost $2.1 million.
In opening the discussion, economic consultant Bennie Garland and Cumberland Family Chief Operating Officer Tracey Antle described the non-profit corporation’s operations in Russell, Cumberland, Monroe, Metcalfe, Adair and McCreary.
McCreary Family Medical Center currently operates four days per week in a rented facility. While downplaying the 24-hour aspect of the proposal, Antle noted how the facility could be used for telemedicine with patients being able to consult locally with physicians in Lexington or Louisville.
“Transportation can be a barrier to some,” she said. “We don’t want to take away anyone’s patients. We want to add to the good work being done here.”
But several spoke out against the facility.
McCreary County PVA Bruce Lominac objected that the proposal would take a valuable tract off the property tax rolls and allow the company an unfair advantage over existing medical practices. He also questioned the need for extended hours and telemedicine capabilities.
“If the money was there, they’d be on it,” Lominac said of the established doctor’s offices. “What I think is the need doesn’t exist. You’re asking us to give up our tax base for something which sounds good but this is just wrong.”
Debbie Kidd of Winchester, Patton and Burgess spoke during the fiscal court meeting — upholding Lominac’s assertion by stating that WPB had cut weekend hours over the years due to lack of need.
During the actual hearing, Patti Newcomb, administrator for McCreary Primary Care Center, agreed that the grant would provide an unfair financial advantage while her associate, Dr. Michael Perkins, suggested the county would be better served to give county ambulances more leeway in the medications they can provide as well as contract with landowners for helicopter landing zones.
“For heart attacks and strokes, there is a golden hour of treatment where you can minimize damage to the patient,” Dr. Perkins said. “We have a transportation problem in this county.”
Citizen Roger Ball noted that a new medical office is soon to open in Pine Knot and questioned whether the spec building at the county industrial park could be used instead of more construction.
McCreary County Judge-Executive Doug Stephens responded that the spec building could not be used as county resources would not be applied toward the application. Fiscal court, he said, was simply acting as a pass-through agency to apply for the grant.
Which led McCreary County Economic Development Advisory Council member Michelle King to question who would be responsible should an audit find irregularities requiring the grant to be repaid to the state. While Waylon Wright of the Lake Cumberland Area Development District (the grant administrator) replied that the nonprofit would have to sign an agreement with the county claiming such responsibility, King noted that the county would ultimately be responsible and have to recover the funds from the nonprofit. She added that she was neither for nor against the project.
In closing the hearing, the court agreed to extend the deadline for written comments (originally through the hearing) to 4 p.m. on Friday. Judge Stephens told the attendees, “We [the court] want the best medical care for the people of this county.”
With that extension, the court was forced to table a vote regarding the resolution of support. Judge Stephens noted that the deadline for the grant application is February 28 and that fiscal court would be required to prioritize its preference should more projects apply for funding.
Deputy Judge Andrew Powell noted that other applications could include the McCreary County Water District’s renovation of its Revelo water plant and the McCreary County Heritage Foundation’s plan to revitalize historic Stearns.
While a special session of McCreary County Fiscal Court has not been scheduled at press time, Judge Stephens told the Record that it would most likely occur either on Wednesday or Friday. The judge added that the public comment extension had yielded both positive and negative responses.