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JeffCo Commission Moves Toward Healthcare Authority

Jefferson County Commission voted to create a UAB-led Health Care Authority to manage Cooper Green Mercy Health Services. (Provided Photo)
Times Staff Report

Jefferson County is moving closer to establishing a health care authority to manage indigent health care in the county, according to a report on the birminghamwatch.org website.

The online news site reported that county commissioners on Tuesday moved a resolution to the agenda for today’s (Thursday) meeting that would direct county manager Tony Petelos to begin detailed discussions with UAB Health System to establish University Health Authority.

The measure passed committee on a 4-0 vote with Commission President Jimmie Stephens and Commissioners David Carrington, Joe Knight and Sandra Little Brown voting in favor. Commissioner George Bowman was not present.

The vote does not mean the immediate establishment of a health care authority, but only for the county manager’s office to continue more talks with the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

“Is Cooper Green going away? No. Is UAB absorbing Cooper Green? No,” Petelos told birminghamwatch.org. “This is going to be a separate healthcare authority and the Jefferson County Commission will be a part of that process. But the health care authority will be responsible for the day-to-day operations of Cooper Green Health Services.”

Petelos said healthcare has changed dramatically and UAB is at the forefront of those changes. “Moving forward with the healthcare authority will not only provide better patient care, but it will also be more efficient and also provide more services to the indigent population in Jefferson County,” he said.

There has been some concern whether the county’s indigent care fund would have enough revenues to cover the medical costs for indigent patients. For example, if costs under the health care authority exceeded the amount of money in the indigent care fund, would the county’s general fund be tapped to make up the difference.

Indigent care dollars are collected from a county sales tax and have been used for medical care for the sick poor.

Petelos told birminghamwatch.org that the move to a healthcare authority would not cost any more money.

“It doesn’t involve general fund money,” he said. “It will only involve money from the Indigent Care Fund.”

Some have questioned why the decision was being made before a new commission was seated. At least three new commissioners – Lashunda Scales, Sheila Tyson and Steve Ammons — will join the five-member panel next month. And a fourth commissioner, incumbent Joe Knight, has a general election challenger in the November 6 general election.

However, county officials say the new commission would make the decision on the formation of a health care authority and this week’s move was only for the county manager’s office to gather additional information.

Petelos said initial discussions to partner with University of Alabama at Birmingham came after extensive conversations with officials at UAB and other health providers, according to the news site.

“UAB has been an incredible partner with Jefferson County since the early 1970s when Cooper Green opened as a hospital,” the county manager said. “Most of the providers there are UAB doctors and we want to continue our relationship with UAB.

“The one thing (patients) will notice is we will be more efficient operating at Cooper Green,” he said. “But the facility will still be there and the long-range plan is to build a new clinic on the site where the parking deck is. Cooper Green will continue to have a footprint on the same location where they’ve had since the early 1970s.”

Petelos also told the news site that employees at Cooper Green would keep their jobs, but they would no longer be Jefferson County employees. Rather they would work for the authority.

“UAB has to get with their board of directors,” the county manager said. “I don’t know what the timeline is. There are a lot of moving parts. There is a lot of negotiating that’ll have to continue. But without question, this is in the best interest of the indigent patients of Jefferson County.”

Read the birminghamwatch.org story here