Jefferson County commissioners are again wondering how to manage the creeping rise in healthcare costs for the poor.
Commissioners at a Tuesday committee meeting expressed concerns that the cost to provide in-patient care to the poor in the county has risen to an estimated $25 million a year.
Commission President Jimmie Stephens said the county had hoped it could keep the tab for indigent in-patient care, which is being provided by area hospitals, at about $15 million.
Commissioners expressed concerns that the rising costs could force the county to again dip into its general fund to foot the healthcare bill.
The County Commission back in 2012 agreed to close Cooper Green Mercy Hospital to inpatient and emergency care. After determining the hospital was draining the county budget and not operating efficiently, the hospital was converted to an urgent care center.
The new Cooper Green Mercy Health Services operates with primary care clinics that the commission hopes to see expanded.
Since the hospital’s closure to inpatient and emergency care patients, the commission has formed agreements with area hospitals such as UAB to provide that care for the poor. Most of the hospitals that the County Commission works in partnership with have a cap on the amount of money allotted for care. UAB Hospital does not.
William Smith, controller of Cooper Green Mercy Health Services, told the commission Tuesday that the cost to provide inpatient and emergency care will continue to rise. He also pointed to costs for emergency services provided by the hospitals as particularly troublesome.
Smith said he continues to see patients going to emergency rooms with minor conditions that could be handled at the urgent care facility. He said the county needed to work to educate people about the preventative care services offered by the county.
Commissioner Sandra Little Brown agreed.
“We don’t do enough PR,” she said. “People need to know (about the services).”
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