After weeks of drama, disappointment, Atlanta Medical Center to close

The decision to close Atlanta Medical Center, one of the largest providers of care for the poor in the city, shocked workers, politicians, and members of the community. The news broke on August 31, leaving everyone, including employees of Wellstar Health System, taken aback.

Since October 14th, the nearby Mercy Care Charity Clinics and Memorial Grady Hospital have already experienced increased impacts and traffic, leading to the closure of the emergency room. As a result, both the hospital’s staff and patients have been affected.

This year, the outpatient clinic at South Center Medical in East Point, Atlanta, was downsized from an emergency room and hospital to a smaller facility. This year, the former location of Baptist Hospital, now known as Wellstar Hospital, in downtown Atlanta, has been closed.

Wellstar recorded a financial deficit of $114 million in the fiscal year ending on June 30, 2022, for its two AMC establishments. The patient base at both medical facilities consisted of numerous uninsured low-income residents. Wellstar stated that both AMC locations were experiencing financial losses.

Despite incurring those losses, Wellstar Health System managed to earn operating income of $106 million in the same period, which ended on June 30, 2022, after deducting expenses.

Wellstar is a nonprofit hospital system that is expected to provide care for the wellbeing of the community and does not require any payment of taxes.

Although Bree Davis, a new mother, had not yet utilized the Atlanta Medical Center’s downtown hospital, she had planned to do so if she required assistance for her newborn.

Davis learned for the first time that the hospital shutting down was an away week, speaking to a reporter on 25 Oct. Next, Davis chose a pediatrician for her new baby in the medical office buildings next to AMC, partly because of the hospital being in close proximity.

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“I’m somewhat surprised,” Davis stated. “Because I had no idea that they were shutting down.”

“The access is conveniently located nearby. So figuratively, she is directly opposite on the other side of the street, you know, just in the event that something were to happen. Her recent children’s doctor, situated opposite a hospital, provided her and her newborn with a sense of safety.”

Atlanta and government officials and health authorities expressed their surprise by the news.

Georgia is expanding Medicaid to address the closure of the state’s Democratic leaders are rallying and crying out for action. Following the announcement, officials said they were uncertain if anything could be done to stop it. Mayor Andre Dickens of Atlanta has repeatedly condemned the decision to close Wellstar Hospital and the failure of the local health system’s alert system.

State and local officials have scrambled to find funds to bolster nearby hospitals where AMC patients are now expected to seek care.

The DeKalb County Board of Commissioners has approved a combined funding of $20 million for both Grady and Emory Hillandale hospitals. Governor Brian Kemp announced on September 15 that the Grady Health System will receive $130 million in aid from the federal American Rescue Plan Act funds allocated to Georgia, which will be used to add approximately 185 hospital beds.

Beverly Walker had her X-ray done this year. She mentioned that she has been a loyal customer of the hospital for maybe 20 years. Last week, she had an appointment with her doctor at one of the medical office buildings of Wellstar, which is located next to AMC.

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“I believe it’s unfortunate,” Walker expressed. “There are numerous individuals who visited that place, and it’s necessary.”

Dickens stated that Atlanta wants to prioritize the continued use of health care services on the site. In order to prevent any disturbances to the land or building permits, the city’s Department of Planning has prohibited any applications for rezoning or new land use on the large AMC site, which spans almost two city blocks, in an effort to prevent the redevelopment and sale of the site.

Ultimately, the Atlanta City Council unanimously opted to extend the ban on site redevelopment for a period of 180 days, until April 23, 2023.

AMC’s ER closures have already begun following a traffic room emergency, increasing the experience hospitals in the area have with handling such situations. Before the closures at AMC, most local emergency rooms were operating above capacity. Level 1 trauma centers are equipped to provide care for every aspect of an injury. Currently, there is only one Level 1 trauma center remaining in the city, which is located at Grady.

Based on the information published by Wellstar in 2020, more than half (51.5%) of the 4,281 individuals who visited AMC’s downtown and East Point facilities in 2019 as emergency room patients were beneficiaries of Medicare and Medicaid, with over two-thirds (67.3%) being of Black ethnicity.

The shutdown scheduled for October 21 will lead to more detrimental health consequences for the underprivileged communities in the city, a matter of concern for health care proponents. A gathering was organized by the Atlanta Regional Collaborative for Healthcare Improvement (ARCHI), where local authorities convened to engage in an ongoing dialogue regarding the health care requirements of the city.

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During a press conference outside Atlanta’s city hall on October 25, Gerald Griggs, the president of NAACP Georgia, emphasized the importance of local officials at both the local and state levels engaging in dialogue with the citizens rather than solely conversing amongst themselves.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Wellstar had intentions to completely close their East Point clinic, which is currently providing services to walk-in patients, just one day prior. Those patients will be relocated to a neighboring clinic, which will be financially supported by Wellstar for a limited period. However, the report did not verify this information about Wellstar.

Richard Rose, the president of the NAACP’s Atlanta-Fulton County Branch, expressed, “Instead of progressing, we are regressing.” He emphasized the urgency to advance and halt the downward trend.

Ariel Hart, a staff writer for AJC, made a contribution to this report.

About the Atlanta Medical Center.

Beds: 460.

Address: Boulevard and Parkside Drive.

Acquired by: Wellstar Health System in 2015.

Closing date: November 1, 2022.

Please help us support our community by donating to the important fund at ajc.Com/give. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and America’s Report are partnering to add more journalists who will cover important topics.

Schedule: Atlanta Medical Center shuts down

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