A federal bankruptcy judge threatened the city of Birmingham with sanctions for filing a lawsuit to stop Jefferson County from ending inpatient care at Cooper Green Mercy Hospital.
Earlier this week, the county commission voted to end overnight stays and the emergency room at Cooper Green. Birmingham attorneys filed a lawsuit against the county to keep inpatient services open in early August.
Judge Thomas Bennett was very pointed and critical of Birmingham in court on Thursday. The judge questioned Birmingham's authority and case law for filing and even accused the city of trying to interfere with how county runs the hospital. The judge said that the hospital is the county's property and they can run it however they want.
Birmingham attorney Michael Choy, who represents Mayor William Bell, says Birmingham has worries over indigent care. They want to be sure indigents can get care with the Dec. 1 deadline to end inpatient care and the ER looming.
"We're not trying to keep the hospital open by this lawsuit. Because of a statute, the Alabama state law doesn't give us the authority. It doesn't say the county has to run a hospital; we just want to make sure that the indigent are cared for," said Choy.
Choy made a point to ask the judge to remove deadline. He said that may take care of the indigent care needs. He says he still hopes the county will not terminate inpatient care and the emergency room as of the Dec. 1 deadline.
"Absolutely not. I think it's cold-hearted," Choy said.
Commissioner George Bowman was on hand to support Birmingham's efforts.
"I'm glad the city of Birmingham is joining up to protect Cooper Green and to save the hospital," Bowman said.
The judge has not offered an official ruling, but he says he could impose sanctions against Birmingham. Bennett says he could possibly force the city to pay for legal expenses of the county attorneys so far in the case.
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