Rev. Al Sharpton says closing of unit at Cooper Green Hospital could spark changes nationwide
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama -- The closing of Cooper Green Mercy Hospital's inpatient care unit could be the spark to bring attention to healthcare on a national level, Rev. Al Sharpton said today.
Sharpton was one of the featured speakers during a community forum on the facility moderated by U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church.
"People will say this is a local situation, 'why should we be concerned about it?'" Sharpton said during a press conference after the forum. "Well they said that 50 years ago to Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth and Shuttlesworth used Birmingham to change a nation. . . We intend to put a national spotlight on this because this insensitivity must be exposed. "
During the hour-long forum, attended by about 250 people, many wearing green tee-shirts in support of the hospital, Sharpton said the civil rights movement was a spark in Birmingham 50 years ago and Cooper Green could be a similar spark for healthcare.
"I am deeply concerned by what I heard at the community forum," said Sharpton, one of the nation's best known and controversial civil rights activists. "I had no idea of the gravity of this closing on this community and it is a national example of those that would put partisan politics over people's healthcare. This ought not be a Republican or Democratic issue. This is about how you sustain the healthcare of the citizens that you are sworn to serve."
The Jefferson County Commission voted 3-2 last month along partisan lines to close the county owned hospital for the poor.
The Republican majority has said the hospital is losing money and a new model with urgent care services and clinics for preventive care can deliver cost-effective, quality health care to the indigent.
Sewell, D-Birmingham, said she understands that the county is out of money and in bankruptcy, but "we should not be making financial decisions on the backs of the most vulnerable, the poor, the uninsured and the under insured."
Sewell said the county lacked a plan for the closure.
"No plan is no justice," Sewell said. "The three takeaways I have from this community forum: we want transparency; we want communication to the public and we'd like input. It's clear that this community is crying out for an opportunity to have input for a plan of action."
County Manager Tony Petelos said Thursday that the county had an agreement with UAB Health Systems to help indigent care patients at Cooper Green and additional updates on deals with other medical providers will be announced.
Sewell said today that invitations to the forum were sent to all five County Commissioners and the County Manager. George Bowman was the only commissioner to attend. Commissioner Sandra Little Brown is out on medical leave and Commission President David Carrington said he had a prior commitment.
The decision may have been made to close the inpatient care unit but that doesn't mean efforts will end to reverse the decision, Bowman said.
"The train left the station, but it has not arrived at its destination," he told a cheering crowd.
Bowman appeared on a panel that included Maralyn Moseley, longtime Cooper Green advocate and Darlene Traffanstedt, president of the Jefferson County Medical Society, which represents more than 2,200 physicians from all hospitals. Moseley said the services provided at Cooper Green saved her life and Traffanstedt said physicians were concerned about the lack of input and a plan by the commission.
Birmingham Mayor William Bell attended the forum along with State Reps. John Rogers, Mary Moore, Juandalynn Givan, D-Birmingham; State Rep. Merika Coleman, D-Hueytown; State Sen. Roger Smitherman, D-Birmingham and State Sen. Priscilla Dunn, D-Bessemer.
Shortly after the forum, members of the audience massed at the downtown courthouse to call for the continued services at Cooper Green.