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Louisville directs millions toward health care workforce, South End birthing center

sts mary elizabeth hospital
Courtesy Mary & Elizabeth Hospital
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U of L Health Mary & Elizabeth Hospital in the South End will receive an $8 million grant to build and staff a new birthing center.

New housing for veterans in south Louisville and a health care innovation project anchored by a new technology center in the West End were just two of the initiatives to receive funding Thursday night when Metro Council approved its final round of federal pandemic relief spending.

In total, Metro Council members divided up $58.8 million among six proposals. They appropriated all the remaining funds the city received from the American Rescue Plan Act, passed by Congress last year. Louisville got nearly $390 million, which could be used to address the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on residents’ health and the economy.

District 9 Council Member Bill Hollander, a Democrat who is set to retire at the end of the year after serving as the Budget Committee Chair for the past five years, said the federal funding presented a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the city.

“I think we made good use of it,” Hollander said. “The largest category of expense has been housing, where we have a desperate shortage particularly of affordable housing. But we’ve also put money into public safety, public health, libraries, swimming pools, a number of projects that I think are going to be very important for a number of years.”

Filling health care jobs in Louisville

The largest chunk of ARP spending, $40 million, will go to a coalition of health care company CEOs and nonprofits seeking to make Louisville a "national epicenter of health care aging innovation.” The years-long project includes a commitment by the companies to “recruit and fill 1,500 entry-level health care jobs” locally.

District 17 Council Member Markus Winkler, a Democrat who co-chaired the Council’s workforce development group, said the project will allow Louisville to “lean into its strengths,” as 12% of local residents are already employed in the health care and aging services industry.

“All along the way, we wanted a large project that you could look back on and be proud of and say this is something that has really had a lasting impact on the community,” Winkler said. “When we saw that proposal, we said this a transformative, long-term, job-creating opportunity that we think is the path the city should go on.”

The $40 million workforce proposal would be anchored by a new technology and learning center west of Ninth Street in the Russell neighborhood. The center would provide training for in-demand tech skills, with a particular focus on helping neighborhood residents and people of color get jobs in the health care industry.

Dave Christopher, director of the nonprofit AMPED, which runs technology training programs and a Black business incubator in west Louisville, said the goal is for the center to become self-sustaining over the next five years. He said it could house a pharmacy, coffee shop and event space.

“One of the conversations we had early one was about, ‘Well we’re going to build this big, beautiful building in west Louisville and then what? There’s really nothing around it,’” he said at a Metro Council committee meeting last month. “My answer to that was: We don’t intend to stop there. We plan to build up other things around it. We’re talking about housing. We’re talking about stores and grocery stores.”

AMPED is just one of the nonprofits involved in the project. Metro United Way and the Louisville Urban League are also participating in the program, alongside the Louisville Healthcare CEO Council and Greater Louisville, Inc., the local chamber of commerce.

In the coming years, the coalition plans to use the seed money from Louisville Metro to fill 1,500 entry-level health care jobs and train over 2,000 people already working in the industry in the skills they need to move up in their careers. They’ve also promised to attract 750 health care employees and their families to move to Louisville.

In a recent presentation to Metro Council, Tammy York Day, who heads the Healthcare CEO Council, said health care jobs in the Louisville region are expected to increase by 15%, or 8,500 positions, by 2029. At the same time, she said many workers, especially Black workers, are at risk of having their jobs automated.

“Our opportunity is linking those challenges of inequitable automation and the increasing health care talent shortage,” York Day said. “That really creates an opportunity for us to address the region's long-standing equity disparities while accelerating economic recovery.”

Louisville Metro and the coalition initially pitched the project to the federal government in hopes of securing funding from the Build Back Better Act. The proposal was chosen as one of 60 finalists last December, but did not ultimately win the additional $100 million in funding.

Alleviating the lasting impacts of redlining

The final round of ARP spending also includes $8 million for creating new homeownership opportunities in communities still feeling the effects of redlining, particularly in west Louisville. Combined with a previous appropriation of $5 million, it brings the total spending on the project to $13 million.

Redlining was the government-sanctioned practice of discriminating against Black Americans in mortgage lending and insurance. Many communities that were redlined before Congress approved the Fair Housing Act in 1968 continue to feel its negative impacts in health disparities, air pollution and home ownership rates.

The final ARP spending plan also sets aside $5 million for a Volunteers of America development in southwest Louisville that will contain 42 housing units designated for military veterans. Develop Louisville, a city agency, will get $758,000 to purchase foreclosed abandoned properties throughout Jefferson County with the goal of producing more affordable housing, and an extra $5 million for library renovation and construction projects already underway.

Budget surplus to fund south Louisville birthing center

On Thursday night, Metro Council members also approved a $8.25 million matching grant to the U of L Health Foundation, which will be used to help open a new birthing center at the Mary & Elizabeth Hospital in the Hazelwood neighborhood.

Democratic District 14 Council Member Cindi Fowler proposed the funding for the birthing center in late October. At a recent committee meeting, Fowler said pregnant people in southwest Louisville have not had the option to give birth close to home since the birthing center at Mary & Elizabeth Hospital closed in the 1960s.

“Has it not been way too long that women west of I-65 have been ignored, not for a want, but a need to bring babies safely into this world in a pleasant situation?” she said.

Estimates attached to the project proposal said there could be 300 births and 1,500 “gynecological care encounters” during the birthing center’s first year. By year five, the center could facilitate as many as 1,000 births per year.

The U of L Health Foundation will be expected to match the $8.25 million in funding from the city, although officials say a grant agreement has not yet been signed.

Funding for the grant came from a more than $30 million surplus Louisville Metro had in the last fiscal year, which ended in June. Monica Harmon, the city’s Chief Financial Officer, said last month that the better-than-expected tax revenues and difficulty filling vacant positions in city government drove the surplus.

While outgoing Mayor Greg Fischer proposed putting $20 million into the city’s rainy day fund, Metro Council instead chose to keep $12 million aside unallocated. That money could be put into the rainy day fund or appropriated to some other project in the future. They directed the rest of the surplus toward various projects, including the birthing center, ongoing renovations to the Norton Pool at Camp Taylor Memorial Park and the creation of a new 10-acre park near the Valley Station neighborhood.

In another budget adjustment move, Louisville’s Department of Parks and Recreation will set aside $100,000 for work on the Hogan’s Fountain Pavilion in Cherokee Park, better known to residents as the “teepee” or “witch’s hat.” The local landmark is shut down indefinitely as city officials debate whether to demolish and replace it or fund costly renovations.

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Roberto Roldan is the City Politics and Government Reporter for WFPL. Email Roberto at rroldan@lpm.org.