Filling the gap, area providers want to join Cooper Green network
BIRMINGHAM - AL — Cooper Green Mercy Health Services has been open as an urgent care center for 515 days. That's roughly a year and a half. Yet, agreements with hospitals are just now in place and county leaders are still simply talking about the spoke and hub model. Other providers say there's a healthcare gap they want to help fill.Jefferson County leaders described the new Cooper Green as a "spoke and hub." The urgent care center would be the hub of a healthcare network connecting people to clinics in their neighborhoods. Some clinic providers, as well as hospital CEOs, offered to be part of it. However, it has yet to happen."I don't understand how we decide who gets healthcare, who doesn't get healthcare," said Dr. Robert Record, CEO of Christ Health Center.In 2009, Record left Cooper Green to take healthcare to the people of Woodlawn. The Christ Health Clinic is on the bus line and walking distance from four public housing communities."It's vital. I cannot underscore access to healthcare and quality healthcare," said Record.Record's clinic has a pharmacy and dental clinic. But it can't provide all services, like mammograms, colonoscopies and ob-gyn."Either we don't have funding for it or we are not big enough to offer it. That's a missing point cooper green was and is not today but can be," said Record.Record suggested using his clinic along with M-Power Ministries Health Center, Hope Health Center and resident clinics to help Cooper Green patients in their communities."It kind of died on the- what would the personnel board say? What would the receiver say? What would the federal judge say," he said.Radio ads started airing after Cooper Green shutdown hospital operations January 2013."When the unexpected needs arise, Cooper Green Mercy Urgent Care gets you in and out faster than the ER," said the ad.Patients showed up at other hospitals, like UAB. A contract to take over some services was reached with the hospital April 2013. "I believe these contracts are a step in the right direction. But there's much more that needs to be done," said UAB Health System CEO Dr. Will Ferniany.A few weeks ago, the county finally got contracts with St. Vincent's, Baptist Health System and UAB West. The contracts totaled 14 million dollars for in-patient services and doctors."Yes, it's frustrating to me that three years later we are still dealing with issues," he said.Dr. Ferniany sees improvement needed with the referral process and primary care. He also offered a suggestion to let area hospitals operate Cooper Green."Instead of just waiting for patients to come to the urgent care center with asthma, we'd have case managers working with their lifestyles or working with their diet. None of that is happening," he said.County manager Tony Petelos has listened to the ideas. The county has even paid a consultant more than 378 thousand dollars to help with the transition."At this time, we needed to make the transition. We needed to get things settled down. We need to get our director in place and we need to see what happens," he said.A year and half later in addition to no community clinics, there's no permanent director."I'm not going to second guess any decision that was made. I'm going to look forward," said Petelos.Going forward, many doctors hold on to hope of getting back to Cooper Green's roots of eliminating barriers to healthcare."We have a chance to be the city, the county that affected justice for the least of these. If you want to build a name, build it on that," said Record.The county plans to search for a director soon. In the meantime, the interim director is meeting with other providers to help come up with a better and permanent healthcare model. No date has been set for its debut.