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Molina Healthcare donates site for West Louisville’s first new middle school in 90 years

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Molina Healthcare donates site for West Louisville’s first new middle school in 90 years

Jun 07, 2024 | 3:47 pm ET
By Deborah Yetter
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Molina Healthcare donates site for Jefferson County’s first new middle school in 90 years
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A new middle school will rise in West Louisville on the site where Passport Health had once intended to build its headquarters. (Photo by Deborah Yetter/Kentucky Lantern)

A new middle school is planned for a long-vacant site in West Louisville where Passport Health, the state’s first Medicaid managed care company once hoped to build its corporate headquarters.

The news was celebrated at a press conference Friday by a host of state and local officials and representatives of the predominantly Black area of Louisville who have long lobbied for development of the 20-acre site at 18th and Broadway.

Molina Healthcare is donating the site it acquired in 2022 for about $7 million after it bought out Passport, which ceased construction of its headquarters amid financial problems brought on by changes in state Medicaid policies.

It will be first new middle school to be built in the predominantly Black community in 90 years, said school Superintendent Marty Pollio, who spoke at the event that also included Gov. Andy Beshear and Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg.

“We thought this would be a great place for a new middle school in West Louisville,” Pollio said. “I never in my wildest dreams thought they would donate this plot of land.”

Ryan Sadler, president of the company now called Passport by Molina HealthCare, said the decision comes after several years of meeting with community groups to determine the best use for the site.

“We are all here today for West Louisville,” he said.

Molina also plans to open a “one-stop” health and wellness center on the site to serve area residents, Sadler said.

Molina, a Fortune 500 company based in Long Beach, California, serves about 296,000 Kentucky Medicaid members, making it the second largest of the six managed care companies, or MCOs that oversee health services for Medicaid enrollees. It is the single largest Medicaid MCO for patients in West Louisville.

Pollio also included a surprise announcement: JCPS will consider locating a new headquarters on the West Broadway site, replacing its aging building in southeast Jefferson County, he said.

But the first step is to begin construction on what he described as a “state of the art” middle school as a home for the Dr. J. Blaine Hudson Middle School opened last year temporarily in a former elementary school. The new school is expected to open in 2026 and is named for Hudson, a longtime Louisville scholar, educator and Black activist who died in 2013.

Development of the site has been long sought by community leaders as a source of jobs and economic growth for the historically disadvantaged West Louisville.

Vacant for 20 years, it had been a symbol of promise for leaders in the largely Black community who were excited about Passport’s plan to locate its headquarters there. But they grew increasingly concerned after construction ceased amid Passport’s financial problems.

Passport had proposed its headquarters and a health and wellness site at 18th and Broadway but was forced to suspend construction in 2019 amid a revenue shortfall it blamed on Medicaid rate cuts enacted by the administration of former Gov. Matt Bevin.

Bevin, a Republican and critic of Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, had proposed limiting benefits and restructured how his administration paid MCOs — which Passport, as the largest provider in Louisville, claimed unfairly cut its reimbursement for health claims.

The Bevin administration at the time denied the rate cuts were unfair to Passport.

Beshear, a Democrat who defeated Bevin in the 2019 governor’s race, in comments Friday alluded to the dispute.

“A little over six years ago, a previous governor stopped a $100 million construction of this building,” said Beshear, now in his second term. “I made you a promise that if I were elected, we would develop this property.”

Molina Healthcare donates site for West Louisville’s first new middle school in 90 years
Rev. Charles Elliott, left, a West Louisville pastor who has long championed development of the vacant site in West Louisville, was among the crowd at Friday’s announcement. (Photo by Deborah Yetter/Kentucky Lantern)

Among those in the crowd was Rev. Charles Elliott, whose King Solomon Missionary Baptist Church is near the site and who once led a prayer delegation to Frankfort in support of the Passport project.

Beshear directly addressed Elliott, a prominent West Louisville pastor.

“Pastor Elliott, I remember looking at you and saying, ‘West Louisville deserves better,’ ” Beshear said as Elliott nodded.

Other speakers echoed enthusiasm over the plan for the site.

Jefferson County School Board chairman Corrie Shull called Friday “an awesome day to be alive.”

“We are incredibly grateful for this day,” added Hudson school principal Jeronda Majors.

Passport faced potential demise after it failed to get its contract renewed with the state in 2019, but was saved by the sale to Molina, which was a successful bidder for Kentucky’s Medicaid business.

Kentucky’s $1.5 billion-a-year Medicaid program covers about 900,000 low-income and disabled adults and about 600,000 children, with most of its money coming from the federal government.

Passport was established in 1997 as a non-profit company designed as a pilot project to try to control rising Medicaid costs in the Louisville area, a model officials hoped to take statewide. It was Kentucky’s first Medicaid MCO.

But efforts to create such entities in other parts of the state failed and the state in 2011 began awarding its Medicaid business to Passport and outside, for-profit companies.

Friday, with the rusting steel beams of the former Passport site in the background, officials were ready to look ahead.

“Congratulations to everyone involved,” Beshear said. “We look forward to cutting the ribbon on these amazing projects.”

This article and headline have been corrected. An earlier version said the project would be the first new middle school in Jefferson County in 90 years. It will be the first new middle school in West Louisville in 90 years.