By Barnett Wright
The Birmingham Times
The Jefferson County Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to extend closure of the Birmingham and Bessemer courthouses to April 30 from April 6 and allocated $1 million to purchase hospital beds and additional expenditures associated with the COVID19 pandemic.
The five-member commission held a virtual emergency meeting with a majority of the members tuning into via Zoom from outside the courthouse.
“We have allocated this [$1 million] for the emergency fund so we can put all of the expenditures related to the COVID-19 in one category. It’s not there to be used electively,” said Commissioner Joe Knight, chair of the commission’s finance committee, “. . . it is there to be used in an emergency.”
Of the $1 million, about $81,000 was used to purchase 55 hospital beds from Jett Medical Company in the event a “surge hospital” must be established. Such a facility will be set up if local hospitals become overcrowded with a surge in patients.
Knight said the local Emergency Management Agency (EMA) is considering using the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex (BJCC) or the Sheraton Hotel as a surge hospital if area medical facilities become filled.
Money from the fund also will be used to purchase sanitary supplies to deep clean the courthouse and other county owned facilities, officials said.
With the courthouses closed, Commission President Jimmie Stephens said the county government continues to work properly with many services available online at www.jccal.org.
“The citizen’s needs are being well served,” he said. “I want to emphasize that everyone should follow the guidance of our health care officials. Listen to the advice of the [Jefferson County Department of Health]; our Emergency Management Agency (EMA) directors . . . we are echoing their actions and supporting their decisions. It is for our health and welfare.”
Earlier this month, Jefferson County Manager Tony Petelos said a number of functions will continue to operate while the courthouses are closed.
“Environmental services, IT, payroll … and critical personnel will continue to work,” he said.
Urgent care has continued at Cooper Green Mercy Health Services, but clinics will not see patients unless there is an emergency. The oncology group will continue seeing patients, he said.
Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Alabama Department of Public Health have published guidance on the virus.