County-operated health care debate continues

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - By Jonathan Hardison

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - After the Jefferson County Commission's 4-1 vote, the county is a step closer to selling the county-operated nursing home.

If the nursing home sells, what happens to Cooper Green Mercy Hospital and the patients who depend on it?

Commissioner George Bowman is the sole of 5 commissioners opposed to selling the facility.

He wants to lump the nursing home, the county laundry, and Cooper Green into a new an independent healthcare authority that would run all 3.

If the nursing home is sold, he says the county should still be a healthcare provider, but take its hands off the steering wheel. Other commissioners aren't so sure.

Commissioner Bowman says Cooper Green will soon be the last hospital in the state not run by a healthcare authority, sort of an independent management group. He says it would save the county millions in efficiencies by taking the county commission out of the day-to-day decision-making.

"You've got purchasing efficiencies, you've personnel efficiencies, you've got management efficiencies that come with the healthcare authority, and that's the way we wanna go," Bowman said at a public forum Tuesday night. "But apparently I'm like John the Baptist preaching in the wilderness, I'm a committee of 1."

Cooper Green patients want their hospital freed from county oversight as well.

"We deserve to be free," said a patient named Marilyn. "We deserve to be able to offer to anyone who comes in, which we do now, without any strings and without being concerned."

Bowman's healthcare authority found no support among the rest of the commission, though the idea of taking the county out of running a hospital has more support. The question is how does that look?

Commissioner Joe Knight agrees only in the sense that he's not sure the county should be a healthcare provider at all. "Where we go from here it's too early to say," Knight said. "But the county, in my opinion, might oughta take a look at getting out of the healthcare business, also. But that's way down the line, and we'll take a look at it. It may be where we can operate efficiently and keep Cooper Green."

Commissioner Jimmie Stephens says he's not sure what to do with Cooper Green but it's farther down the list of priorities. Commission President David Carrington has said that's a separate issue from the county home and Commissioner Sandra Little Brown does not support selling Cooper Green, but is in favor of selling the county home.

What's at stake here is about $38 million that comes from the indigent care fund.

That's tax money that has to be used to provide healthcare for the poor, but that doesn't mean it has to be spent at one specific place.

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