Could Cooper Green Employees Stay in the Retirement System if They Went to Work With a Health Care Authority? Maybe.

Cooper Green Mercy Health Services. (Source: Sharon Phelan Evans [CC BY-SA 3.0]
The executive director of Jefferson County’s General Retirement System has softened her stance concerning eligibility of employees of Cooper Green Mercy Clinic to remain in the county pension system.

The issue arose when Jefferson County commissioners brought up a proposal to study partnering with UAB to form a health care authority.

In a letter to Jefferson County Commissioner Lashunda Scales dated April 23, 2019, Amy Adams wrote that current pension law would not permit Cooper Green employees to participate in the county’s pension if they were “terminated.” A day later, Adams clarified a point in her initial correspondence.

“The current pension law does not expressly permit the affected employees to continue their participation in the GRS once they become employees of the Healthcare Authority,” Adams wrote. “However, the current law does provide the pension board with limited discretion to allow that result only if it determines that the agreement between the county and health care authority:

  • Provides for the county to act as payroll agent for the health care authority.
  • Otherwise fully complies with both the pension law and the health care authority.
  • Is in the best interest of the plan to permit them to continue their participation the GRS under all the circumstances then present.

“I did not want to leave you with the impression that, under the existing law, it is impossible for the affected employees to continue their participation in the GRS once they become employees of the healthcare authority,” Adams wrote. “It is theoretically possible for them to do so but only under these limited circumstances and only with the approval of the pension board.”

A week earlier, Jefferson County attorney Theo Lawson made a similar point before commissioners passed on a 3-2 vote a resolution to enter a due diligence period with UAB Health System to negotiate an agreement to create a University Healthcare Authority.

Scales and Commissioner Sheila Tyson voted no after having argued that the matter be delayed to allow time for a pair of bills in the state Legislature to pass. Adams cited those bills – House Bill 384 and Senate Bill 309 – in her initial letter to Scales.

The bills would allow Cooper Green employees to remain in the county’s pension system.

Contacted by BirminghamWatch, Lawson said he continues to stand by his statements at the most recent commission meeting at the Jefferson County Courthouse in Bessemer.

Lawson expressed confidence that the bills will pass before the establishment of a health care authority. He added that the matter of employee pensions will be part of the due diligence process.

“What we have signed there is just a framework,” he said. “There’s got to be decisions about employees. There’s got to be decisions about assets. It’s got to be decisions about all sorts of things that happen during the course of this. This framework had to be put in place so that there was a basis for the health care authority to be formed.”