Jefferson Metropolitan Health Care Authority
The Jefferson Metropolitan Health Care Authority was a former authority created in 2003 by Jefferson County Commission president Larry Langford. The purpose of the authority was to oversee all county health operations and assets, including Cooper Green Mercy Hospital and Jefferson County Health Services.
Langford incorporated the authority as a non-profit organization and urged the transfer as part of a major campaign to remake Cooper Green Hospital. The overall plan included a $93 million renovation of the hospital and contracting with the Alabama Sports Medicine & Orthopaedic Center to locate in the new facility and participate in management and strategic planning. By placing the hospital under an authority rather than the Jefferson County Department of Health, its managers would have more flexibility in raising funds and operating the hospital. Langford also claimed the change would allow the hospital to claim an estimated $5 million more per year in Medicaid payments.
Langford selected the five members of the Authority, which included himself, Cooper Green CEO Sandral Hullett, attorney Alex Newton, and minister O. C. Oden, Jr. Jefferson State Community College president Judy Merritt was announced as a member in its incorporation papers, but later announced she would not serve. Dermatologist Norman Walton took her place.
The County Commission approved placing its outpatient clinics under the authority's direction in July 2003, before the authority had actually met. The existing Health Department was never consulted in the plans for the new authority. The Commission approved the hospital renovations in August 2003, before determining how funds would be secured. In February 2004 the Commission placed the authority in charge of all county health services, including providing health care to inmates at the Mel Bailey Criminal Justice Center and the Jefferson County Jail Bessemer Division.
In a March 10, 2004 report, accountants Banks, Finley, White & Company warned the Commission that the authority lacked proper internal financial controls, opening the door to fraud. It found 19 transactions of more than $2,500 which could not be supported by documentation and made a number of recommendations for enhancing accountability. Those recommendations were not followed.
The authority stopped meeting in early 2007, after Langford lost his Commission presidency to Republican Bettye Fine Collins. After Langford left the Commission to become Mayor of Birmingham in November 2007, Governor Bob Riley appointed General George Bowman to take his place as the Commissioner of Health and Human Services.
In 2007 the accounting firm of Warren, Averett, Kimbrough & Marino reviewed the Health Care Authority's finances and reported on December 3 of that year that 46 of 218 large transactions from the period of October 2003 to September 2007, totaling $469,365, had no supporting documentation. Recipients of funds without supporting paperwork included attorney Steve Cooley, hospital consultant Chris Hartsell, the Washington D. C. lobbying firm of Van Scoyoc Associates, Canyon Resources LLC, the IRS, and the US Treasury.
The Commission gave Hullett 30 days to respond to the report. In January 2008, the Commission's Finance Committee, headed by Collins, hired the law firm of Lightfoot Franklin & White to investigate the financial activities of the Health Care Authority. By the end of March, some explanations had been provided, but 30 of the questioned payments, adding up to $238,838, still lacked proper documentation.
- Velasco, Anna (July 11, 2003) "Langford urges major renovation for Cooper Green." Birmingham News
- Velasco, Anna (July 23, 2003) "Authority to control clinics." Birmingham News
- Walton, Val & Anna Velasco (August 8, 2003) "Jeffco eyes transfer of health assets." Birmingham News
- Velasco, Anna (August 13, 2003) "Langford will plan health care transfer." Birmingham News
- Robinson, Carol (April 15, 2007) "Hale sues Jeffco to pay inmate health care bill." Birmingham News
- Wright, Barnett (January 4, 2008) "Jeffco health authority files not found No records for 46 payments." Birmingham News
- Wright, Barnett (January 8, 2008) "Report warned fraud probable Undocumented health authority spending continued over four years, accountants say." Birmingham News
- Wright, Barnett (January 23, 2008) "Committee wants investigation of expenses." Birmingham News
- Wright, Barnett (March 27, 2008) "Still no documentation for $238,838 in payments." Birmingham News