Sep 16, 2022 - News

A plan to fill the gap left by Atlanta hospital closure

SIgn saying 120 years of caring for Atlanta outside a hospital
The soon-to-close Atlanta Medical Center proclaims 120 years of "Caring for Atlanta." Photo: Emma Hurt/Axios

Two weeks after Wellstar Atlanta Medical Center announced it would close by Nov. 1, state and local leaders say they have come up with a way to fill the gap.

Driving the news: On Thursday, Gov. Brian Kemp announced the state is giving $130 million of its federal COVID relief money to fund a 185-bed expansion at Grady Health System, the city’s remaining Level 1 trauma center.

  • Kemp said the state will immediately send to Grady a 24-bed mobile hospital unit that was used during the early days of the pandemic.
  • Those join the 40 beds Grady already planned to add in the coming months.

The big picture: Grady President & CEO John Hauper told reporters that after the expansion, targeted at the end of 2023, the coverage gap left by Atlanta Medical Center’s closure will be more than covered.

  • While the Wellstar hospital was licensed for nearly 500 beds, he said its average adult patient load was actually 165 per day.
  • The confidence is a shift in tone from Grady's original statement about the closure, accusing Wellstar of having "clearly prioritized profits over people" with their decision.

Of note: With the new beds, Grady will become the largest Level 1 trauma center in the country in terms of number of trauma patients admitted, a spokesperson said.

  • Haupert said the expansion was already a long-term plan for the hospital, but the state funding has accelerated the timeline. In the last two weeks they’ve already begun recruiting new trauma surgeons.
  • "Grady will be here. Grady is here. And Grady will serve," Haupert said.

What they're saying: "While the decision to close was certainly no one's preference, our job is to now move forward, to move forward together and find a viable solution to the needs of the impacted community," Kemp said.

  • "These are not Band Aid solutions," Kemp said, also highlighting the state's already-announced new funding formula designed to give Grady Health System and Augusta University Medical Center better reimbursement rates for those on public health insurance programs.
  • The new formula means Grady will receive about $130 million in additional funding each year.

The other side: In her own press conference Thursday, Democratic nominee for governor Stacey Abrams again blamed Kemp's decision not to expand Medicaid on the closure. Even though Wellstar has said that wouldn't have changed their decision, she told reporters she doesn't believe the hospital network was "wholly honest about what Medicaid expansion could have done."

The bottom line: In the short term, all of Atlanta's hospitals, including Emory Midtown, Piedmont Hospital and Southern Regional Medical Center (in Riverdale), will have to share the volume of patients who will no longer go to Atlanta Medical Center. All those providers participated in the discussions of the last two weeks, Kemp said.

Threat level: Haupert told reporters that while the $130 million will help Grady build the new beds, the hospital still needs additional operational funding from DeKalb and Fulton counties to cover the expenses of treating more uninsured people. Right now, the two counties give Grady about $54 million per year.

  • While Fulton County has committed an additional one-time $11 million to give to Grady, Haupert said "more will be needed."

What we're watching: Fulton County Commission Chair Rob Pitts said he is actively working to find a new healthcare facility to move into south Fulton County to cover the losses of two of Wellstar's hospitals, including the Atlanta Medical Center South closure earlier this year.

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