Jefferson County Commissioners Lashunda Scales and Sheila Tyson took their effort to delay a vote on a UAB healthcare authority to the sidewalk in front of Cooper Green Mercy Medical Center.
The pair, backed by dozens of Cooper Green employees and some patients, held a news conference today to voice concerns about giving UAB responsibility for indigent care when the commission meets Thursday at the Jefferson County Courthouse in Bessemer.
“We’re asking the public to contact their own commissioners to let them know how they believe they should vote,” Scales said. “We still have a duty to the folks who put us in office.”
The healthcare authority will provide indigent healthcare in Jefferson County. Scales and Tyson said a document that was moved to the commission agenda on a 3-2 vote Tuesday is a business contract that doesn’t address the needs of the county’s poor.
The public information officer of Jefferson County said in a release today that county commissioners will consider a resolution to enter a due diligence period with UAB Health System to negotiate an agreement to create a University Healthcare Authority.
“It doesn’t matter what they’re saying it is,” Scales said. “We have presented what it is. It is the sale of property, the makeup of this board and the sale of bonds obligating Jefferson County as a government to be able to build a new facility. That’s what this is about, and that’s what’s going to happen.”
Said Tyson: “All of the indigent care money will go into a separate account that will be controlled by the authority. That means that the county will have no say-so over that money, period – not one dime of it.”
The two commissioners repeated their concern that the contract to create a UAB healthcare authority is too heavily weighted to UAB.
County Attorney Theo Lawson and Chief Deputy County Manager Walter Jackson said Tuesday that Jefferson County is working under the rules established by a law that was passed to regulate an authority partnering the county with UAB.
Scales and Tyson said there are other options, including establishing the authority under the Jefferson County Department of Health.
“We could look at the Jefferson County Health Department so that our employees can remain with Jefferson County, because that’s affecting their pension,” Scales said. “With this agreement, they will not have a pension associated with the authority, or at least it has not been identified.”
The contract calls for UAB to have four persons on the seven-member board of the authority. That, Scales and Tyson said, would allow the authority to sell bonds to build a new Cooper Green facility for which the county would have to pay.
“Once that vote happens (Thursday) … our voice as a county becomes quiet but our money speaks volumes to those folks who need it most,” Scales said.
David Britt has worked at Cooper Green the past 10 years. He said during the news conference that the current discussion reminds him of the last time Cooper Green, then a hospital, experienced a reduction in force.
“There was misinformation then,” said Britt, who works in information technology at Cooper Green. “There was information being withheld then.
“I don’t want to see what happened when we downsized as a hospital happen again,” the 38-year-old Pleasant Grove resident said. “They told us, ‘Oh you’re fine. You’re safe. Your job is going to be OK.’ That was Monday. Come Wednesday, they’re passing out 300 pink slips.’”
The statement from the county’s public information officer said Cooper Green currently has to follow Jefferson County’s major operating functions for human resources, purchasing and contracting. This creates some inefficiencies for Cooper Green to effectively provide indigent health care services, it said.
The creation of a University Healthcare Authority provides a number of advantages for providing health care to the indigent population, the statement said, including:
- The University Healthcare Authority will assume the risk of cost overages as it relates to healthcare expenditures above a per-patient rate.
- The authority and Cooper Green will share operational costs for lab work and pharmacy operations. This will create cost savings by allowing Cooper Green, through the authority, to share in UAB’s lab and pharmacy network.
- The authority will be more efficient and cost effective by using an information-technology infrastructure, built and tested through UAB, that covers billing, credentialing and patient utilization.
- The authority will have the advantages of a larger purchasing operation through UAB.
The statement repeated the point made Tuesday that other models were considered, but they did not match the one with UAB. It added that Cooper Green employees would have a chance to work for the new entity.
“It is important to remember,” the statement said, “that a due diligence period is a time to work out specific details of an agreement and how a transition would happen. The resolution before the commission Thursday allows the county to enter discussions to work out those details and finalize an agreement. Completion of this process is expected to take several months.”