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Jefferson County and UAB advance talks to enhance services to Cooper Green patients

  • April 18, 2019

A plan to create a University Authority to manage health care at Cooper Green Mercy Health Services moves forward following action by the Jefferson County Commission.

CooperGreenJoomlaJefferson County, the University of Alabama at Birmingham and the UAB Health System have taken another step toward creating a University Authority to operate Cooper Green Mercy Health Services to support the county and improve access to high-quality care for Cooper Green patients.  

Based on extensive study that identified a University Authority as the best strategy to ensure sustainable high-quality care for Cooper Green patients, the Jefferson County Commission directed County Manager Tony Petelos on Jan. 25, 2018, to initiate formal conversations with UAB to develop a new structure to operate Cooper Green.

The proposed structure is detailed in an agreement that was presented to the Jefferson County Commission today and approved. If the proposed agreement is also approved by the Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama System, the county and the UAB Health System would enter a six-month due diligence and transition period to determine whether a final agreement can be reached while avoiding any disruption to patient care and operations.

“With its extensive expertise and resources, the UAB Health System is far better suited to run Cooper Green in this complex, modern health care environment than we are as a county government,” said Petelos. “UAB has been the primary provider of services and supporter of Cooper Green patients for years, and now UAB is answering the call to create an authority that benefits those patients. No medical facility in Alabama provides more indigent care than UAB.”

The University Authority would plan to construct a modern, improved facility that would enhance access to care and reduce costs. This new building would be next to the current Cooper Green facility. Built in the early 1970s, the existing facility is costly to maintain and is not suited to the efficient delivery of modern health care. 

“A new Cooper Green facility will enhance care for patients and be more efficient, thereby ensuring sustainable care for those who need it,” said Raheel Farough, a vice president of UAB Health System Managed Care. “It is truly a win-win and an important part of the agreement.”

In addition to services at Cooper Green, the University Authority will partner with other Jefferson County hospitals and clinics to meet patient care needs and expand access. Special initiatives will be evaluated, such as new programs to address areas of need, including a sickle cell anemia program and psychiatric urgent care.

“Jefferson County leadership and UAB are committed to improving access to the highest-quality health care for Cooper Green patients, and we believe this is the best way to accomplish that objective.” Will Ferniany, Ph.D. UAB Health System CEO

UAB Health System CEO Will Ferniany, Ph.D., says the University Authority would operate Cooper Green in a way that improves the overall health of eligible Cooper Green patients.

“The contract with the county is designed to support patients’ overall health by working with them in all aspects of their health, not just when they are sick,” Ferniany said. “Jefferson County leadership and UAB are committed to improving access to the highest-quality health care for Cooper Green patients, and we believe this is the best way to accomplish that objective.”

Farough has worked closely with Jefferson County leadership to identify opportunities to enhance patient care in a structure that is efficient and sustainable for Jefferson County and the indigent care fund.

“UAB’s resources and expertise will create efficiencies and opportunities that will allow for more effective investment in patient care and wellness,” Farough said. “Similar authorities are working successfully for other healthcare facilities, including Medical West, Callahan Eye Hospital and Baptist Health in Montgomery, and we have identified many opportunities to optimize Cooper Green for its patients.”

The agreement also addresses the future of current Cooper Green staff employed by the county, including opportunities with the University Authority.

“Cooper Green has many talented and dedicated employees,” Ferniany said. “If the due diligence period is approved to begin and goes well, and a contract is finalized, current Cooper Green employees will be in a preferred category and given an opportunity to apply for positions with the new University Authority. We anticipate filling the majority of the clinic positions with the existing employees.”

According to Ferniany, existing employees’ applications will be received and considered first, and UAB and the county will make their best efforts to place the employees, subject to background check and drug screens.

Petelos reinforced that sentiment.

“These county employees understand the importance of providing the best possible services for Cooper Green patients,” Petelos said, “and we will work to identify opportunities for them in this transition.” 

“It is important to recognize that this is a continued partnership among Jefferson County, Cooper Green and UAB that will only get stronger,” Petelos said. “The authority will run the day-to-day operations at Cooper Green, and the county and the UAB Health System will continue working together to oversee and guide decisions in the best interest of Cooper Green patients.”