By Jane Ehrhardt
By January, construction will begin on the new Cooper Green state-of-the-art medical facility where their parking deck once stood on 6th Avenue. The glistening five-story building will cover 207,000 square feet and solve numerous restrictive and costly problems lingering in the current 50-year-old building. “We’ll save hundreds of thousands of dollars just from reduced utilities,” says Laura Hurst, administrator of the clinic since 2019.
Cooper Green, which provides quality healthcare to Jefferson County residents regardless of ability to pay, has been serving as an ambulatory care center for the last 10 years in a building designed to be a 319-bed hospital.
“Our current setup isn’t efficient,” Hurst says. “We’re moving so we can get patients in and out more effectively. It will also be more work-friendly for our staff. For example, old nurses stations currently serve as sign-in desks, which forces our staff to repeatedly walk the long hallways of old inpatient rooms — now exam and treatment rooms — just to retrieve paperwork.”
Cooper Green worked to involve patient groups in the planning process. Two committees — patient advisory and community advisory — relayed their insights on an ideal clinic from a patient’s perspective. Their feedback led the planners to locate the waiting rooms at the front of the building to allow for an open space with natural light, and to have one glass side in the stairwells.
The new facility, though smaller, also solves space problems with designs specifically suited to Cooper Green’s diverse services. The physical, speech and occupational therapy services, which see around 1,300 patients each month, will move into a spacious suite that includes a covered outdoor section for enhancing skills such as navigating curbs. The pharmacy will expand to provide the room needed for storage of outpatient prescriptions.
Space is also planned for the team-based approach that Cooper Green employs with their patients. “We take care of the patients’ needs completely while they’re here,” Hurst says. “It’s not just a visit between you and your provider; it includes everyone who needs to be a part of that patient’s care,” Hurst says. Those professionals might include their social worker, behavioral health specialist, diabetic educator, pharmacist, and nutritionist or any of the 17 specialties offered within the clinic.
Patients can get their lab services and imaging done in-house, as well, with the new building expanded to include Cooper Green’s first MRI suite. A separate phlebotomy and injection clinic will streamline their laboratory visits and improve vaccination process.
The oncology infusion suites will now sit along the glass walls in the new building to let in natural light and offer semi-private areas for those who don’t want to be part of the group setting. “So you can sit for four hours for your treatment in some privacy, if you want, with your own TV but with no doors, so nurses can still check in quickly,” Hurst says. “It’s a significant upgrade for us.”
Several of Cooper Green’s current tenants, including the Recovery Resource Crisis Center and Cahaba Dental will also move into the new facility. Two new tenants will be the UAB School of Nursing PATH clinic, which offers team-based care centered on chronic diseases such as diabetes, and UAB Community Psychiatry. “Everybody can always benefit from more mental-health care. So we’ll get more synergy with them here,” Hurst says.
UAB became an integral part of Cooper Green in April 2020 through an agreement with the Jefferson County Commission. Funding still comes from the Jeffco Commission, but UAB now manages the operations. The new board consists of three Jeffco Commission members and four UAB Health members.
“We benefit from a lot of UAB services,” Hurst says. “They provided positions for quality patient safety, compliance, and infection prevention, along with IT support, and they added Cooper Green to their computer network. It’s fabulous. We get to still serve our patients and provide quality care, but we have access to this wealth of expertise. We’re not on an island by ourselves anymore.
“We want people to know that now Cooper Green is both a provider and a payer. We’re not insurance, but we enroll you. Jefferson County residents without insurance or those who may need extra coverage beyond Medicare and who meet the criteria can find their medical bills paid, even if they’re taken to other facilities for care. So please enroll with us now. It’s too late if you get in a car accident, and you have a fat bill from the emergency department. But if you’ve enrolled with us, we would cover the whole bill and your follow-up care. If you needed rehab for the next three years, we pay for that.”
Currently, Cooper Green has about 3,600 low-income residents enrolled. About 52 percent have Medicare or Medicaid. The other 48 percent have no coverage. “I know there are more than 3,000 uninsured people who need us,” Hurt says. “Make an appointment. Come in and let’s talk.”