North Carolina County Officials Face Lawsuit After Denying Permit To Build Health Clinic Expected To Serve Low-Income Residents
The North Carolina Tri-County Community Health Council has filed a lawsuit against Johnston County, N.C., alleging discrimination by county commissioners who denied a zoning permit to build a health clinic in a rural community that would serve low-income residents, the Raleigh News & Observer reports. Tri-County runs six clinics in southeastern North Carolina that provide comprehensive dental, medical and mental health care. More than 50% of the council's patients in 2007 were Hispanic, and Hispanics make up more than 10% of the county's population, according to the News & Observer.
Health council leaders made plans for the clinic after indentifying southern Johnston county as having a large number of uninsured residents. The council applied for a federal grant and received $650,000 annually to serve an estimated 3,800 patients annually. The land for the proposed site was donated to the council and is located in a remote area on the edge of the county. When the council submitted a request for a zoning permit to build the clinic, the request was denied by commissioners, who cited traffic concerns and opposition from neighborhood residents.
Johnston Memorial Hospital and the Johnston County Health Department supported building the clinic in the area, noting that it would help reduce an increased demand for routine care at local emergency departments. The council also collected more than 1,000 signatures in support of the proposed site for the clinic.
The lawsuit, which was filed in Superior Court in March, cites past discriminatory comments made by a top county official and claims that the county acted arbitrarily in the decision. Commissioners have denied charges of racial bias, adding that they support the clinic's efforts but recommend that the clinic be built in a less rural setting. County officials have since been charged with finding a new location for the clinic (Maguire, Raleigh News & Observer, 10/10).