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'Nowhere to take them': Atlanta ERs squeezed after closing of Atlanta Medical Center

Seven months after the closing of Wellstar AMC trauma center, data quantifies the hardship for Atlanta area hospitals.

ATLANTA — The number of emergency room visits and trauma cases have soared at hospitals across Atlanta, according to leaders of the hospitals handling the load.  

When Wellstar closed its Atlanta Medical Center in November, many predicted a crush of patients at other hospitals. The data indicates that’s exactly what’s happened.

At Piedmont Hospital and other Piedmont facilities, emergency room volumes have doubled since November.  

Piedmont’s CEO told a state senate committee much of that traffic goes to its hospital in Henry County "to relieve the trauma coming north. And then we’ll go from there," said Mike Mandl, executive vice president of Piedmont Healthcare.

Emory Healthcare has also had a surge of emergency patients. At Emory facilities, ER volumes are up 30% according to its CEO Bryce Gartland.  

At any given time day or night, Emory has 25 to 30 patients in its emergency rooms waiting for beds to open up.  Emory also staffs Grady Hospital, the state’s foremost trauma center. Senators asked – can Emory open another trauma center?

"We’ve talked about trauma centers. The reality is no provider can step into a trauma center without county or state associated support," Gartland told committee members. 

Ambulance service has had to adapt to the closing of Wellstar AMC. Atlanta fire chief Rod Smith told senators that the reduction in emergency room beds is projected to affect 100,000 emergency patients over the one-year period following the closure of Atlanta Medical Center.

"What we have here is a long wait time when we get to the call. And so our units are standing on the scene, in a pre-hospital environment upwards of an hour -- on a regular basis, with no one or nowhere to take them," Smith told the committee

As for new facilities, Piedmont expects to upgrade one of its hospitals to a level one trauma center, though its CEO wouldn’t say where. Emory has opened a couple of mobile emergency rooms, but says a new full-service emergency room is not part of its plan.

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