Atlanta Medical Center closed just after midnight this morning and by early evening the signs were already being removed from the building.
It’s an inglorious end to a crucial hospital that has been part of the city for a century, most of that time on Boulevard in Old Fourth Ward. Some of us are old enough to remember when the campus was known as Georgia Baptist Hospital, renowned as a “teaching hospital” for new doctors and nurses.
I used to live just a couple of blocks away from AMC and considered it “my hospital.” I made several trips to the emergency room over the years, had tests done there, visited sick friends and relatives there, and sat beside my grandmother’s bed during her first bout with cancer.
Seeing it tonight with the entrances barricaded and mostly dark was a shock, although we’ve known this day was coming for several months. The emergency room closed Oct. 14 and by yesterday, patients had been moved to other hospitals in the city.
Wellstar is a nonprofit hospital system, which means it pays no taxes and its mandate is to provide care for the community. More than 50% of its patients were Medicare and Medicaid recipients and nearly 70% of patients who passed through the ER were Black.
Over the summer, Wellstar reported operating losses of $114 million at AMC and another of its hospitals in East Point, which has also closed. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Wellstar still turned a profit in its last fiscal year, reporting an operating income of $106 million.
Charges by community and healthcare leaders that Wellstar is putting profits over patients is hard to ignore. The decision to close AMC blindsided the city, which has now imposed a redevelopment moratorium on the 25-acre campus.
Mayor Andre Dickens said he was making it a priority to find another operator to reopen the hospital rather than see it demolished to make way for condos or offices.
Grady Hospital, which received an infusion of $140 million from the state and Fulton County for a quick expansion, posted a reassuring video on social media this morning with the message “We got you.”
In a press release that accompanied that social media post, Grady Health System said it has already seen an influx of patients in its emergency department and in the number of trauma cases. Grady is now the only Level 1 trauma center in the region. You’ll have to go to Macon, Augusta or Chattanooga to find another, which is pretty useless if you’ve sustained a life-threatening injury like a gunshot wound.
Grady has hired former AMC trauma surgeons and primary care physicians to help meet demand at its Downtown hospital and neighborhood health centers. Additional practitioners have been added to Grady’s Walk-In Center and ER waiting room.
Grady has already added 41 new inpatient beds and more are on the way, but it still adds stress and strain to a hospital that faced the onslaught of COVID-19 cases. The fact that Wellstar shut down AMC after the harrowing and fraught last two years is another slap in the face to the city.
Frankly, I find it unconscionable that Wellstar made this choice at this moment in time when so many Atlantans are struggling with their health and medical costs. But the blame doesn’t fall completely on Wellstar. Some of it belongs to Gov. Brian Kemp.
During Kemp’s tenure, six hospitals have closed in Georgia as he continues to refuse to fully expand Medicaid. That refusal, which will likely continue if he is re-elected, prevents Georgia from accessing billions in federal funds that would help struggling hospitals.
Kemp has opted for a narrow expansion, which helps an estimated 50,000 Georgians, which includes work requirements. Full implementation of Medicaid expansion would assist between 600,000 and 700,000 residents.
My hope is that another health system in the state or from somewhere in the country will rise to the occasion and put the value of citizens front and center instead of money and politics.