Sheriff's request sparks battle over indigent care funding

A request from the Jefferson County sheriff{}for nearly{}three million dollars has started a battle for control of the indigent care fund.

41 million dollars goes into that fund each year to provide healthcare for the poor. Right now, all of that money is going to Cooper Green Mercy Hospital.

Other indigent services provided through the courts, nursing home and Sheriff's Office are covered under the general fund. However, some commissioners say that will have to change.

The sheriff{}wants some of the{}funding{}to pay for the treatment of{}indigent{}inmates.

"There's a lot of services required. There's a lot of medications required. For instance, there is AIDs medication, which is the most expensive medication out there," said Rob Riley, Sheriff Mike Hale's attorney.

That's why the sheriff's attorney asked for nearly three million dollars from the indigent care fund to contract the services.

"There was a time Cooper Green was servicing the inmates but there was some problems with medical care,"{}Riley explained.

By problems, Riley{}says the hospital wouldn't fill AIDs medication and inmates were found dead in their cells.

The discussion angered some people at the commission meeting.

"You haven't talked to me. I make the decisions," said Dr. Sandral Hullett, Cooper Green Mercy Hospital's director.

Her comment points to what commissioners say is the real problem - a struggle for power and control of the indigent care fund. All of it goes to Cooper Green and some won't have it any other way.

"I believe it's a backdoor approach to unearmark funds. It sounds like unearmarking," said Commissioner George Bowman. "It reduces the resources for Cooper Green to operate and take care of customers in Jefferson County. It's a degradation of resources."

"We're asking to cut 875 thousand a month. We're asking for three million out of their budget. That is horrific. We can't do that," said Commissioner Sandra Little Brown.

But others say the courts, nursing home, and Sheriff's Office provide healthcare services for the poor,{}so Cooper Green must share.

"Cooper Green will one day hopefully live within what they are allotted. They've never done that, they've ignored what we say," said Commissioner Joe Knight.

But until some consensus can be reached, no one will dip into the fund.

"We'll do what we have to do. There is not a choice," said Riley.

The sheriff was denied access to the indigent care fund today.

But most of the commissioners agree that money will have to be split in the next budget between different qualifying departments.