By Tina Tidmore
Jefferson County Commissioner Joe Knight reached all the way to the year 1888 to tell Clay-Pinson Chamber members the history of publicly provided health care in Birmingham.
However, at the Oct. 8 chamber lunch meeting, he spent most of his time on the Cooper Green Mercy Hospital’s history from 1972.
At that time, he said the hospital was built for 319 beds with the plans for 250 patients. However, Knight said the most the hospital has ever had was 155 patients in 1974.
In a later interview, Knight said the Medicare and Medicaid programs lessened the need for publicly funded hospitals because people could get care from many doctors or hospitals that accepted patients with payment from those programs.
The average number of beds that Cooper Green Mercy has filled with patients overnight average 35-40 now, Knight said. “Last week, it was as low as the 20s,” he said.
As the county commission asked administrators to cut back on their spending, yet seeing the county’s portion of the hospital’s costs continue to climb, and as the county’s other costs caused the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history, the county stepped in to change the services Cooper Green Mercy will provide in the future.
The “hub and spoke” structure will allow the hospital to continue providing outpatient care, but patients needing overnight hospital stays will be referred to other hospitals.
“About 70 percent of indigent care is already provided through other hospitals,” Knight said. In the later interview, he pointed out that the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital and St. Vincent’s Hospital in Birmingham are around the corner or a few blocks away.
“I don’t have a problem with inner-city health care for the indigent,” Knight said. “But health care is a business.”
Knight said that health care is changing. He explained that, formerly, people stayed in the hospital days for commonplace procedures.
“Now, you might need to keep your car running in the parking lot, as fast as they want you out,” Knight said.
He also said that in a publicly funded hospital, the former model for Cooper Green Mercy would not work. Therefore, the structure has to change, but in a way that the people can still receive care.
Jefferson County’s portion of Cooper Green Mercy hospital costs:
Source/credit: County Commissioner Joe Knight.