BRADENTON, Fla. — To prevent further siphoning of revenues from bankrupt Jefferson County, Ala.’s general fund, commissioners will decide whether to close Cooper Green Mercy Hospital, the county’s indigent-care hospital.
Three of five commissioners, sitting in a committee session last week, voted to place the closure on the regular commission meeting agenda Tuesday.
Before the final decision had even been made, Birmingham officials filed for a declaratory judgement in Alabama state court to prevent the action.
County Commissioner George Bowman, who is against the closure, on Monday accused fellow board members of attempting to shutter the hospital “to tap into the indigent care fund … to subsidize the general fund budget.”
The county-owned hospital, which has 319 licensed beds, has an average of 65 patients daily. It receives about $40 million annually from a dedicated local sales tax, and has tapped the county’s general fund for another $10 million for operations in the past few years.
The facility also has $25 million to $30 million in deferred information and medical technology needs, according to FTI Consulting, which was hired last year to examine ways that the county could adjust expenses after state courts struck down an occupational tax.
The job tax provided a significant amount of revenue for the county’s general fund. That loss, along with $3.14 billion of sewer debt that commissioners failed to restructure, led the county to file the largest Chapter 9 bankruptcy in the country last November.
In addition to capital needs, FTI noted that Cooper Green’s inpatient and surgical services had “very low volumes,” and suggested that the county prepare an emergency closure plan to prepare for its own impending liquidity crisis.
Several avenues have been suggested to deal with the ailing hospital, including the creation of a self-governing authority.
The hospital has become a controversial issue due to the number of indigent people in Alabama’s largest county.
Commissioner Jimmie Stephens, who oversees the board’s finances and is a proponent of closing the facility, could not immediately be reached for comment.
On Friday, the Birmingham City Council and Mayor William Bell filed a lawsuit alleging that closing the hospital would violate the county’s responsibilities under the Alabama Health Care Responsibility Act.
The complaint also said that the County Commission had not worked out a plan to transfer patients to other hospitals.