Maybe it’s this crazy weather we’ve been having. Maybe it’s the daylong hike I took in the Sipsey Wilderness this past weekend with my kids and several other members of our extended family, an occasion for reflection and a wellspring of perspective if ever there was one. Or maybe it’s just the fact that there are a lot more questions in this world than answers sometimes hits me like a truckload of bricks.
Whatever the reason, my mind lately has been running more toward the inquisitive than the declarative. Due to considerations of space — and, perhaps, of the reader’s attention and/or tolerance — I’ll share here only a few of those that come quickly to mind, along with a little extemporaneous musing over some possible answers. To wit:
Question #1: Why isn’t there more public outcry over the Jefferson County Commission’s handling of the closing of Cooper Green Mercy Hospital?
For many, the circumstances surrounding the shutdown of Jefferson County’s only indigent care hospital have been relegated to the long list of failures visited upon the public trust by our county government. To be sure, there is truth in that view, as far as it goes — which is not far enough.
In the first place, it absolves the current Jefferson County Commission of its fair share of responsibility for what should be a source of embarrassment, if not outright shame, for anyone who claims to be looking out for the greater good. I’ll be quick to add here my opinion that, on balance, the current commission — along with County Manager Tony Petelos — is doing the best they can with what they have to dig their way out of the gigantic hole left by their predecessors. But their treatment of Cooper Green has been ham-handed at best, from their summary “announcement” of their intentions to close the facility, to their acknowledged failure to effectively communicate their plans and the changes in care they entail to the general public — most especially the patients affected by the closure.
All of this has amounted to what one health care advocate recently described to me as a “Chinese water torture” of the sick poor of Jefferson County. First the OB/GYN services at Cooper Green were cut, then cancer care, then dialysis, then psychological counseling, and on and on. What it boils down to is that the poor — 16 percent of Jefferson County’s population, and 27 percent of the city of Birmingham’s — are suffering disproportionately for crimes they did not commit. Unless, that is, that being poor has become a crime. Which leads us to…
Question #2: Why do Alabama Republicans hate poor people?
This question is rhetorical, of course. Or at least I think it is, though it’s becoming increasingly difficult to judge, given the exclusive focus of Alabama’s Republican leadership on policies that have little to nothing to do with addressing either the problems or opportunities that lie before us as a state.
This attitude is exemplified by Gov. Robert Bentley, who has refused to expand the state’s Medicaid system to accommodate implementation of the federal Affordable Care Act. The governor has justified his decision in part on the spurious grounds that Alabama cannot afford it. In truth, it is of a piece with the reflexive fear-mongering by Bentley and his GOP confederates on any topic that can be remotely connected with the current President of the United States, who conveniently (for them) happens to be black. In a state where approximately one-third of the adult population is without health insurance and nearly one-quarter receive some form of Medicaid, this is beyond shameful.
Question #3: What’s next for the Birmingham City Schools?
With a majority of the Birmingham Board of Education now supporting Superintendent Craig Witherspoon, the spotlight on the city schools has waned considerably. Still, significant challenges to the system’s immediate and long-term viability remain. The state board of education will remain engaged in the financial and operational affairs of the system for the foreseeable future, at least through the school board elections scheduled for August of this year.
The makeup of the new board will go a long way toward setting a course for the future of the city’s schools, but with his job apparently safe, Witherspoon still has a yeoman’s task ahead in engaging teachers — whose union backed the onetime board majority that was intent on firing the superintendent — in his plans for making improvements in the classroom and increasing parental involvement.
Question #4: Will the Birmingham City Council honor the late Marty Eagle?
Marty’s, the idiosyncratic nightclub and music venue near Five Points South, has been a Birmingham institution almost since the moment of its opening a couple of decades ago. That is due to the personality of owner Marty Eagle, who died on February 1, leaving a host of friends and customers, along with a legion of local musicians who benefited from his commitment to live music and his personal support.
Eagle’s stamp on Birmingham — most particularly his little corner of it, over which he presided with an air of both casual royalty and utter humility — is undeniable. Here’s hoping the Birmingham City Council can agree on an appropriate way to honor and memorialize him. I’ve gotten wind of a budding effort to urge the council to rename 10th Court South, the little side street on which his establishment is located, as “Marty’s Way.” I can think of no more fitting tribute.