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Patients, staff impacted by announced closure of Wellstar Atlanta Medical Center

The hospital's closure leaves Grady as the only Level 1 Trauma Center in Atlanta.

ATLANTA — Makayla de Jong reflects on the milestones: her father walking her down the aisle, him showing up to the graduation ceremonies of her siblings. De Jong said those moments nearly did not happen because a dirt bike accident almost took her father's life. 

"He suffered a temporal lobe injury and multiple facial fractures, all sorts of things," de Jong said. "And he needed to be airlifted to a Level 1 Trauma Center.”

De Jong's father went to Wellstar Atlanta Medical Center. Now, the hospital that has opened its doors for more than 100 years will close them for good on Nov. 1. The announcement came Wednesday, and it means the hospital that has the capacity to house 460 beds will no longer be available for patients who need dire emergency care.

RELATED: Atlanta Medical Center to end operations in November, Wellstar says

Dr. Cecil Bennett worked on the medical staff at Wellstar AMC for 20 years. He said he feels for his colleagues, now searching for new jobs or considering early retirement. Bennett said he was also concerned for the patients whose only option was Wellstar AMC, many of them underserved.

"The closing of that hospital affects every single citizen in metro Atlanta, whether rich or poor," Bennett said. "There is no doubt lives are going to be affected, and there is no doubt that lives are going to be lost. There's that golden hour from the time of injury to getting adequate care. There's no way possible losing one major trauma center will not affect that golden hour for several individuals who may be in accidents in the coming months and years."

RELATED: 'They've abandoned us' | Residents react to closing of Wellstar ER in East Point

Bennett said fewer options could cause patients to put off seeing a doctor about a slight discomfort that could turn out to be a serious medical emergency.

"There was a hospital system they could easily access and now the fear that must exist in that community knowing that hospital is going to close, and they have to go further distance and may not be seen as quickly," Bennett said. "What is the hurry to where that hospital has to close in two months? You would think there would be a little more sensitivity given the environment.”

Wellstar released a statement, saying it pursued every opportunity for an alternative path forward. The hospital, which had served the community for over 100 years, cited financial woes and pointed to $107 million in losses in the last year. The health system previously closed the emergency room at its East Point location.

Wellstar said it would work with other healthcare systems to find beds for existing patients and jobs for staff at AMC. Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens sent a scathing letter to Wellstar, criticizing the hospital's closing and the impact it would have on the community at large. The pending closure of the facility is likely to put more pressure on Grady Hospital, which is the only Level 1 Trauma Center-left in Atlanta. 

“Patient care should be number one. Finding a way to make that work should be the priority, not looking at a balance sheet and saying we’re closing this hospital and opening this hospital," Bennett said. "We cannot run a healthcare system based on profitability if it’s going to affect patient care and patient lives. A solution has to be met.”

De Jong called the closure devastating, especially for other patients and their families who have to travel long distances just to get essential care for emergencies. 

“I credit their team for being there, and I’m sad to see it close," de Jong said. "I hope no family ever has to go through what we did, but I’m really sad now because they don’t have a lot of options anymore. We live in North Georgia and had to travel to get trauma care. Where are these families going now?”

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