Scales Says Jefferson County Commissioners Should Be Kept More in the Loop on Indigent Health Care Plans

Jefferson County Commissioners Lashunda Scales questions plans for a health care authority in a June 18, 2019 commission committee meeting (Source: Solomon Crenshaw Jr.)

After two months of waiting, Jefferson County Commissioner Lashunda Scales wanted some answers today concerning the health care authority being designed by UAB Health System and Jefferson County and expressed concern that commissioners are not more involved in the process.

County manager Tony Petelos said answers are still to come as he and leaders at UAB continue discussions in the due diligence phase of the negotiation to form a new system for indigent health care.

“Our legal department has been working with UAB’s legal department and HR department also,” Petelos said during the commission committee meeting. “We’re very, very close to bringing you something in the very near future.”

Commissioners voted 3-2 on April 18 to approve the resolution to enter a due diligence period with UAB Health System, during which terms of an agreement would be negotiated to potentially create a University Healthcare Authority. Scales and Commissioner Sheila Tyson voted against the negotiations.

When commissioners passed the April resolution, they did so saying they wanted to be involved in the process.

Scales expressed concern about the lack of involvement of herself and her fellow commissioners.

“Although we have the county manager, Tony Petelos, and his staff to operate on behalf of the commission, I do believe that the commission themselves should have oversight in terms of what is being negotiated as previously agreed upon at the time that the contract was approved April 18, 2019,” she said.

Scales said later that she would have liked the county manager to sit down with commissioners to discuss what they wanted to see in the contract and negotiate with UAB based on those terms.

“Whatever you’re negotiating, are they of interest to us as a commission in terms of what we would have wanted interjected into this agreement?” Scales continued. “If you go back to when we took the vote, that was one of the things that Tyson claimed, along with Jimmie Stephens, that we would be a part of what the negotiations were. It made sense that the commission who had to vote on this transaction to take place, that these are the things that we would be in agreement with right now.

“I don’t even know what he’s negotiating on our behalf,” she said after the meeting.”

Employee Issues Being Negotiated

One concern has been whether employees at Cooper Green Mercy Health Services could maintain their status in the Jefferson County retirement system if they started working for a health care authority. Officials are examining the possibility that workers could remain in the pension system if Jefferson County continued to be the paying agent for those workers.

Scales said a bill passed the state Legislature this session to allow Cooper Green employees to remain in the county’s pension system. She said she’s been told the authority would have to accept this.

Said Petelos: “We’re getting our ducks in a row so we can bring this forward with all the questions answered. We may have that answered by Thursday,” when the commission has its regular meeting.

“There are a lot of moving parts,” the county manager continued. “When we bring it to you, we want to have everything in order.”

Commission President Jimmie Stephens said health care for indigents is always of primary concern. “Always,” he stressed. “Our charge and the charge of Cooper Green Mercy Health Services is to offer quality health care for the indigent citizens of Jefferson County. The tool to do that will be now the UAB Healthcare Authority.

“The people who will be engaged will be former county employees who will transition over,” Stephens continued. “It’s my understanding those people will be taken care of.”

Scales said during the meeting she wants the commission to be involved in whatever steps occur moving forward. “Ultimately,” she said, “it is the commission that approves the contract.”

Speaking later, the county manager said the transition to the health care authority will be seamless.

“Patients won’t even know the difference,” he said. “It’s going to be the same building, the same employees. There’ll be a few changes but basically, it’ll be the same.

“One thing I can tell you for sure,” Petelos said, “is Cooper Green is not going anywhere, patient care will continue at that location and some day in the very, very near future we will have a new building there for our Cooper Green patients.”