Calming Fears: Jefferson County and UAB Officials Work to Dispel Rumors About New Health Care Authority

Cooper Green Mercy Health Services. (Source: Sharon Phelan Evans [CC BY-SA 3.0]
The due diligence phase of Jefferson County’s move toward a health care authority was fraught with misinformation, including the rumor that current employees were going to be let go.

“The staff there is doing such a great job, but we need more,” said David Randall, president of the Cooper Green Mercy Health Services Authority. “I think the initial panic was, ‘We’re going to get fired.’”

Nothing could be farther from the truth.

“No, please stay because we need you,” said Randall, a senior vice president of strategic planning and business development at UAB. “I think if anything there was a gap in that we need to add more individuals. (Cooper Green staffers are) doing a great job, lifting a heavy load with the staff that they have. I mean amazing.”

Leaders from UAB and Jefferson County met with media Wednesday to provide an update on the move toward a university health care authority, including trying to dispel misinformation about the action.

County manager Tony Petelos repeated his point that the county is not getting out of the business of health care for its poor population. Rather, he said, the day-to-day operation of the hospital-turned-clinic is being handed over to medical professionals who are better suited for the task.

Petelos, Randall and others said that patients should not be able to tell a difference in the operation when the transition takes place shortly after April 1, and the changes they ultimately will see will be improvements.

“We’re going to create a patient advisory board, which currently doesn’t exist, so that patients can continue to have a voice and we can hear what works well and what doesn’t,” the board president said. “We did contact those patient focus groups and got great feedback, both positive and negative, which is great. We need to see what we’re walking into it.”

Randall said some people complained about the cumbersomeness nature of getting qualified to receive service at Cooper Green, so health care officials are looking at ways to streamline that.

“There was some frustration about the pharmacy and the que and waiting in line,” he continued. “What can we do to streamline that? They gave us some really good points so that’s where we want to focus. That could have the biggest impact on the patient experience.”

Randall said the staff at Cooper Green is very positive about the relationship with UAB. There’s more technology, he said, and more specialty.

For employees, the biggest issues included accrued benefits and salary. Randall and others said those who have worked at Cooper Green will retain the benefits they’ve earned during their tenure with Jefferson County and remain in the county’s pension system.

“Those are things we really worked on for a long time,” the board president said. “That’s why it took a little longer in due diligence, to make sure we could get those done.”

Care for the county’s indigent population continues to be paid for through the Indigent Care Fund, which comes from a percentage of sales tax and annually comes in a just under $60 million. Another $22 million in indigent care funds sit in reserve.