Monday, May 6, 2013

Concern for Former Cooper Green Patients

The Jefferson County Medical Society – representing the physicians of Jefferson County – has repeatedly discussed our deep professional concerns with our elected county representatives regarding the void created by the closure of Cooper Green Hospital and the drastic reduction in providers at the Cooper Green outpatient clinic.  Our doctors have offered to volunteer their time and expertise in order to help engineer a workable solution.   Regrettably, we must report that all of our attempts to work with our elected officials have failed.

We are now left with the worst case scenario:  indigent patients are now suffering from a breakdown in the continuity of care and the lack of the critical physician-patient relationship.  Primary care services – the crucible for preventative care and cost savings – for former Cooper Green patients are almost nonexistent.  As a result, these patients are now flooding the emergency departments of area hospitals as their chronic medical problems like diabetes and high blood pressure spiral out of control.  Along the way, the time and valuable resources of our hospitals and physicians are unnecessarily being consumed at an alarming rate.  We as citizens all depend upon these emergency resources from time to time. 

The “plan” set forth by the County Commission is an abject failure.  A few agreements have been publicly touted for secondary services; however, these do not address the underlying primary (care) problem.  With all due respect to our elected county officials and their well-paid consultant, our county government has no business trying to administer a health plan.

A solution to this problem is obvious to the medical community as we stand united with our area hospitals.  However, our elected officials will not listen.  That’s where we desperately need your help.

We believe that the funds already earmarked (and currently being collected) for indigent care should be redirected to the Alabama Department of Public Health, retaining their specific earmark for use only in the care of indigent citizens of Jefferson County.  The ADPH, under the direction of our State Health Officer, Dr. Don Williamson, has indicated that it can set up a health plan with a third party administrator to identify and enroll qualifying patients.  This will be the most cost efficient and least political solution, and will guarantee that the consumer/patient has a choice in where they will receive their medical care. 

If we do nothing, the health of the least fortunate members of our county will continue to worsen, forcing them to the area ERs for their healthcare.  With increasing frequency, ambulances are already being forced to bypass the nearest hospital because it is full and cannot accept new patients.  Treatment in our area emergency departments is taking longer due to the overwhelming volume of patients.  These issues will certainly result in delays in care and the loss of life – not just in the indigent population, but also for those who are well off and think this issue does not affect them.  Additionally, the healthcare industry in Birmingham – currently a reliable engine of growth for our local economy – will suffer immensely.  Important capital improvements to our hospitals and clinics will be delayed which will result in less up-to-date services and treatments.  These are very important issues to everyone in our community, regardless of where there they live or how much money they make, and demand our immediate attention.

We encourage the public to call their elected officials now.  Let your voices be heard loud and clear on this very important issue.

Jefferson County Medical Society, Inc.
Stephen R. Steinmetz, M.D.

Gregory W. Ayers, MD

Darlene H. Traffanstedt, M.D.
Immediate Past President

Theodis Buggs, Jr., M.D.
Vice President

Roxanne Travelute, M.D.

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