Sep 2, 2022 - News

Atlanta reels after news of Atlanta Medical Center closure

Atlanta Medical Center
Wellstar Atlanta Medical Center in 2020. Photo: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

News of the impending closure of Wellstar’s Atlanta Medical Center — one of Atlanta's two level I trauma centers and a nearly 500-bed hospital — has struck a deep chord around the city.

Driving the news: Mayor Andre Dickens demanded a meeting with Wellstar Health System's leadership before September 16 to explain the decision.

  • The closure, he wrote in a letter to the Wellstar CEO, "will leave an open wound in the heart of this community with no articulated plans for its conversion or transition once the hospital ceases operations."

Why it matters: Once the hospital closes November 1, Grady Hospital will be the only level I trauma center in metro Atlanta able to treat things like gunshot wounds and traumatic brain injury.

  • Grady, which already runs over capacity daily, will see "further strain" after the closure, particularly to its emergency room, its administration said.

What they’re saying: In a long statement, Grady accused Wellstar of having "clearly prioritized profits over people, leaving 460 licensed hospital beds in the community empty and more than 120 patients per day having to seek emergency care elsewhere."

  • Dr. Cecil Bennett, a doctor who trained and worked at Atlanta Medical Center, told CBS 46 that the "closing will impact patient care throughout metro Atlanta…We cannot afford to lose this facility. We just can’t."

Catch up quick: Wellstar closed its emergency room at Atlanta Medical Center South in East Point earlier this year. Grady said it’s seen a "significant increase in emergency room visits" as a result, which the statement said would be exacerbated by the second closure.

The big picture: The news appears to fit into a national trend of urban hospitals that serve many poor, uninsured patients struggling financially, just as rural hospitals have already been encountering.

  • The pandemic, rising labor costs, supply chain issues and inflation have made things worse. 
  • 2022 is on track to be the worst year of the pandemic for financial performance, according to a report from health care industry researchers Kaufman Hall.

By the numbers: In its statement announcing the news, Wellstar blamed decreasing revenue and increasing staff and supply costs for the decision. The company said it has sustained $107 million in losses at the facility in the past year and invested more than $350 million to support operating losses and capital improvements since 2016.

The intrigue: While Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams immediately blamed the news on Gov. Brian Kemp's decision not to expand Medicaid, Wellstar told the AJC that while Medicaid expansion would have helped, it would not have changed this outcome.

What's next: Grady closed its statement by saying it is "exploring all legal options available to protect our patients, employees, and this entire region."

  • A spokesman did not respond to a follow up question about the details of those legal options.
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