Jefferson County Commission Will Take Up Health Care Authority in Thursday’s Meeting Despite Concerns

A teary-eyed Lashunda Scales opposed a move by fellow Jefferson County Commissioners to set a date for a possible vote on a UAB health care authority taking over indigent care. (Source: Solomon Crenshaw Jr.)

A four-hour committee meeting of the Jefferson County Commission ended Tuesday with a 3-2 vote to move the creation of a UAB Healthcare Authority to the agenda of Thursday’s commission meeting.

Commissioners Jimmie Stephens, Joe Knight and Steve Ammons voted in favor of taking up the measure Thursday, with Lashunda Scales and Sheila Tyson voting no.

After the meeting, Stephens said the health care authority is needed because that was part of the commission’s pledge when in-patient care was closed at Cooper Green Mercy Hospital, “to form the best possible indigent care for our citizens.”

“We think this is an evolution,” he continued. “We looked at the model and we thought: Were we in a position to administer better health care to our indigents or would the UAB Health Systems be? It was really an easy decision. UAB is much more qualified, (indigent people) will receive state-of-the-art medical care and they’ll be able to administer it to more individuals.”

Before the vote, Scales pleaded with her fellow commissioners to delay taking action. She said the proceedings lacked transparency.

“Today wasn’t a good day for poor people of Jefferson County,” she said. “The agreement today had nothing to do with indigent care. It had to do with the makeup of the board, bonds being issued by this authority and the (potential) sale of property. The agreement itself didn’t have much to say about what we’re going to do for the poor people of Jefferson County.”

County attorney Theo Lawson said during the meeting that patient care will be provided by the health care authority.

“What you have before you,” he told commissioners, “is a framework, a general makeup of how this will go forward.”

The debate that yielded the vote included suggestions that the University of Alabama at Birmingham will have too much power on the board of directors of the authority. UAB gets to name four persons on the seven-member board and it has the right of refusal with the three board members appointed by Jefferson County.

Lawson said Jefferson County has to work within the bounds of the UAB Healthcare Authority law that passed earlier this year.

“That’s the legislation that we’re trapped in,” the county attorney said. “Those are the legal requirements for us to go this route.”

Lawson and chief deputy county manager Walter Jackson acknowledged that there were other options for a health care authority. Each said those options fell short of matching UAB.

“We were directed to discuss directly with UAB,” Jackson said of the county manager’s marching orders from the previous commission. “The commission directly asked us to engage UAB.”

Jackson noted the presentation received from Dr. Mark Wilson, who was representing a group of health care providers.

“We determined that that proposal did not rise to the standards that we had with what we have from UAB,” he said. “UAB was far superior over anything that we reviewed.”

Tyson expressed concern for clinics that are currently receiving indigent care funding. Those facilities are part of a hub-and-spoke system the commission established. The future use of those facilities will be determined by the health care authority.

Employees Also Concerned

Dolores Temple was among at least eight Cooper Green employees who attended the committee meeting. The manager of respiratory and rehab services at Cooper Green expressed concern for the future of herself and others who have been employed by Jefferson County and have been part of the county retirement system.

“We chose to work at Cooper Green and we chose to live our whole life there and probably retire from there,” she said. “I have the choice to work anywhere I want but I enjoy the job that I do and I love treating the people that I treat.

“I’ve been there 20 years,” Temple continued. “I want to continue to work for this facility and maintain what I have.”

Jackson said current employees of Cooper Green Mercy Health System will have preferred status as candidates to work for the authority.

“That’s about all we can say now because we haven’t gotten to the point where we have made any decisions concerning what services would continue what, how many employees we may need, etc.,” the deputy county manager said. “That’s on down the road. The health care authority, once it’s constituted, will make those kinds of decisions.”

In asking for a delay on today’s action, Scales said she and her fellow first-time commissioners needed more time to weigh the matter. Ammons said commissioners have been looking at the health care authority issue dating back to January.

“The other options were incomplete and hadn’t done as much to get to the point that we are today,” he said. “Those others were kind of thrown together (at the) last minute.”

Scales said she and Tyson will conduct a press conference at 10 a.m. Wednesday in front of Cooper Green Mercy Health Clinic.