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Atlanta Medical Center's ER on total diversion as hospital prepares to close

At 7 a.m. Monday, ambulances in metro Atlanta were directed to begin bypassing AMC and instead head to other nearby emergency rooms.

ATLANTA — In one of the most noticeable preparations ahead of Atlanta Medical Center's upcoming closure, the hospital put its emergency room on total diversion Monday at 7 a.m.

Under total diversion, ambulances are now directed to head to other area emergency rooms.

Monday evening, Mayor Andrew Dickens also announced the renewal of his executive order to temporarily halt any redevelopment of AMC's 25-acre site. The moratorium directs the Department of City Planning to refuse applications for rezoning, building permits, land disturbances, special administrative permits, subdivisions, re-platting or lot consolidations.

AMC previously said its preparing to close its ER doors on Friday, Oct. 14 and then the entire hospital on Tuesday, Nov. 1. 

"It is not as quite as rare as you might think," Grady Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Robert Jansen said of a hospital going on total diversion. "I mean even occasionally we have had to go onto total diversion when we have had too many patients. What is different this time is that they aren't coming back off of diversion. So this is permanent and we are already starting to see the impact in our emergency department."

Jansen said Grady's administration first learned late last week of AMC's plan to go on permanent total diversion Monday. He added the sudden notice though didn't cause a panic. 

"We have been preparing the best we can anyway because we had already been seeing an increased volume, as patients knew AMC wasn't going to be open so they had already sort of self-selected to not go there," Jansen said.

Grady's CMO though believes AMC being on total diversion all day Monday contributed to crowded emergency rooms metro-wide, but mentioned emergency rooms have been busier than usual already through the summer and now into the fall.

The Georgia Coordinating Council publishes information online on hospital activity in real-time. For most of Monday, Grady, Northside Atlanta Hospital, and Piedmont Atlanta Hospital were listed as being on medical diversion meaning they were "unable to accept incoming ambulance traffic."

Several other emergency rooms in the metro were also listed as being very crowded or saturated, which means they were near capacity.

Jansen said Grady is currently working on implementing long-term solutions to deal with an increase of emergency room patients, while currently relying on short-term solutions. 

As part of those short-term solutions, the hospital has opened additional areas to take new patient admissions, expanded walk-in urgent care clinic hours, added 29 beds adjacent to the emergency department and a 24-bed mobile hospital will soon be in place. 

"We have to be prepared short-term to just do the best we can with those areas that we can put patients and try to reduce the number of patients in the hospital appropriately," Jansen said. "Getting people out as quickly and safely as we can."

To expand services, Grady is also hiring more staff members. 

Jansen said for months the hospital has been looking to add new employees to deal with understaffing, but AMC's closure is creating a new pool of available candidates to address both understaffing and the need to expand services.

"We have been trying to aggressively add staff for the past months now, even before AMC announced its closure," Jansen said. "We had two job fairs for AMC employees. I think we roughly had 700 employees come over to talk with us at Grady and we hired a number of those or made offers. I don't have the final number yet of those that accepted. But we have been trying to make people feel welcome to let them know they have a position here if it is appropriate for them and us."

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