Prominent local doctors Tuesday night will discuss the “abject failure” of medical care for the poor in Jefferson County – and how it may increase costs for everyone else.
Dr. Gregory Ayers, president-elect of the Jefferson County Medical Society, and Dr. Mark Wilson, head of the Jefferson County Department of Health, will speak at the forum 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Five Points West Public Library, 4812 Avenue W, across from the Birmingham CrossPlex Sports Center.
Ayers’ group of doctors recently issued a press release pointedly criticizing how Jefferson County officials have changed the health care system for the poor, which used to be largely centered around Cooper Green Mercy Hospital. The hospital, which was said to be losing money for many years, was converted from a full in-patient facility to an urgent care model.
The medical society calls the county’s plan “an abject failure” and argues that county officials have refused to accept the advice of medical experts, leading to poor patients being underserved and missing out on vital medical care. Doctors from the medical society have met with County Manager Tony Petelos and others responsible for the changes in indigent care, but have not reached a satisfactory conclusion, the physician group says.
“A solution to this problem is obvious to the medical community as we stand united with our area hospitals,” they wrote. “However, our elected officials will not listen.”
Moreover, the medical society contends that patients not being served at Cooper Green are overwhelming other hospitals unprepared for the influx of new, uninsured or underinsured patients, and that those facilities will have to pass the costs for caring for them on to other 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,” according to the medical society.
Petelos argues that the county plan has improved service for the poor at Cooper Green and he disputes that more of the hospital’s patients are showing up at area emergency rooms.
Some of the county’s critics, including the medical society, hope that $45 million in funds for indigent care will be diverted to a county healthcare authority to better manage the needs of poor patients. Petelos told Weld that he believes that doctors in other hospitals critical of the plan really want the indigent care funds to avoid having to write off so many more poor patients as business losses.
“Some of them feel that this is a way that they no longer have to write off patients,” Petelos said. “But there’s not enough money in the $45 million to handle every indigent patient, or every patient in Jefferson County who doesn’t have insurance. Has never has been in the past and will not be.”
The community forum Tuesday is being hosted by Birmingham View Magazine; Weld for Birmingham; The Terminal; Urbanham.com; What’s Happening Birmingham; the Metro Birmingham Branch of the NAACP; the Public Health Network; the Social Concerns Committee of Noble Chapel CME Church; and the Committee to Save Cooper Green’s Patient Action and Advocacy Committee.