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'Where will you go?' | Democrats, medical community condemns AMC's closure

Sen. Raphael Warnock sent a letter, signed by other Democratic lawmakers, asking for Wellstar officials to come up with a plan before closing.

ATLANTA — Medical professionals joined state elected leaders and Georgia Democrats to condemn the closure of Atlanta Medical Center and called for actionable next steps to not leave the community with fewer options for care.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams held a press conference Friday to highlight the urgency surrounding AMC's closure.

The news conference came two days after Wellstar, the corporation that owns and operates the hospital, announced operations would cease on Nov. 1

"If this hospital closes, when this hospital closes, the people of Georgia are going to once again lose the opportunity for health care, the opportunity for jobs, and the opportunity for survival," she said outside of the hospital.

AMC's closure will leave Grady Memorial as the only other Level 1 trauma center in Atlanta. According to Georgia's Department of Public Health, Augusta University Medical Center, Atrium Navicent Health and Memorial Health University Medical Center in Savannah are the only other Level 1 trauma centers in the state.

Dr. Melody Thompson was one of the dozens of healthcare providers at the news conference. She emphasized the closing of AMC would leave a gap in care for many who are uninsured, underinsured or don't have other options for medical care. 

"If you or your mother has a stroke and that ambulance (is) turned away from Piedmont and Emory and Grady, while the minutes tick away, where will you go?" she asked the crowd.

On Thursday, Grady Health System CEO and President John Haupert said he expects thousands of more patients a year, after AMC's closure.

"A lot of that volume from AMC, 55,000 visits a year is going to end up in the ER here, the ER at Midtown Emory, the ER at Piedmont Atlanta, and add to already strained capacity at the ERs citywide," he said.

He predicts when AMC closes on November 1, emergency room wait times will increase, especially for lower-level issues. 

Speakers during Friday's event echoed similar sentiments, adding the solution should just be to add further strain on Atlanta's soon-to-be sole Level 1 trauma center.

According to an Aug. 31 statement from Gov. Kemp's office, his administration feels the same.

“The governor shares the concerns of the community on the impact this will have. Other local hospitals and healthcare providers are in active talks on how this closure will shift their needs and services," a spokesperson said. "As they work to make the appropriate adjustments, Governor Kemp will continue to build on the policy innovations introduced over the past four years that have grown access to quality healthcare while bringing down costs for Georgians across the state.”

Other democratic leaders also released statements about the closing of the hospital. Sen. Rev. Raphael Warnock wrote a letter that was signed by Sen. Jon Ossoff, Congresswoman Lucy MacBath, and Congressman Hank Johnson Jr., and Congresswoman Nikema Williams. 

The letter can be read below.

Dear President Saunders, 

We write to express our deep concern at the announcement that Wellstar Health System will cease operations at Atlanta Medical Center (AMC) on November 1, 2022. This announcement is especially concerning given that another facility of yours, AMC South, recently closed its emergency department in April 2022. We urge you to reconsider the decision in order to preserve access to health care, particularly emergency care, for patients across metro-Atlanta. The lives of people in Clayton, DeKalb, Douglas, Fulton, Henry, Newton, and Rockdale Counties, as well as other metro-Atlanta counties, depend on the continued operation of your facility. As you are all too aware, the last few years have been extremely difficult for our nation’s health care system. We understand that hospitals have been struggling financially to keep up with rising labor costs, increasing patient admissions, and declining health outcomes due to various factors exacerbated by the pandemic. We also understand that Georgia’s refusal to close the Medicaid coverage gap has contributed to the urgency of these issues, forcing hospitals to front the cost of providing care for uninsured and underinsured individuals. We all know that doctors will provide care to individuals that need it, without regard for their ability to pay. We will continue to do our part as Georgia’s federally-elected officials to close the coverage gap, but we must ask you to do what you can to keep AMC open. According to Wellstar’s Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA) of 2022, AMC and AMC South together made up the largest licensed-bed hospital in the state with 762 beds. The community residents that AMC and AMC South serve are those that consistently experience more barriers to quality health care. The 2022 CHNA found that the community cannot access appropriate levels of care for a variety of reasons, including insurance status and lack of available providers.1 Additionally, AMC South’s emergency department, according to your own assessment, was one of the busiest in the region before it closed in April 2022. AMC South was also the largest employer in East Point.2 Wellstar’s announcement about AMC South’s closing last spring stated that in-patient services will be consolidated at AMC in downtown Atlanta.3 We are extremely concerned about where those patients will go to seek care, if both AMC and AMC South’s emergency department shut their doors. The consequences of closing AMC, an important hub for health care in downtown Atlanta, are colossal. Grady Memorial Hospital, which is few blocks from AMC and the only other Level 1 Trauma Center in the city, is already strained by the number of patient visits to its emergency 1 https://www.wellstar.org/community/community-health-needs-assessment 2 Ibid. 3 https://www.wellstar.org/articles/wellstar-health-system-introduces-new-healthcare-model-at-atlanta-medicalcenter Page 2 department. The closure of AMC will force Grady to absorb those patients, when it is already operating over capacity. Emory Healthcare, which has a facility in midtown Atlanta, will also bear the burden of the closure. We implore you to rethink this decision and reverse course. At minimum, you must delay this decision until there is a plan in place, in consultation with the City of Atlanta and neighboring hospitals, to absorb these patients. We also request an immediate briefing from Wellstar that details the company’s decision making process and its plans for mitigating the consequences of any closure on the community, the local economy, and hospital workers. Communities need access to quality health care to survive, and we have no doubt that the closure of AMC will have direct consequences on the lives of people in Atlanta. 

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