Atlanta hospital closure could make AUMC even more critical

Augusta University Health
Augusta University Health(WRDW)
Published: Sep. 1, 2022 at 3:01 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. - In two months, Augusta will have one of only four Level 1 trauma centers in the state.

Wellstar-owned Atlanta Medical Center announced Wednesday it will shut down on Nov. 1 after experiencing more than $100 million in losses over the past year.

“For several years, Wellstar has continued to invest in and operate AMC with significant losses to provide more time to partner on a creative, long-term, sustainable solution for the hospital’s future,” Wellstar CEO Candice L. Saunders said in a statement.

But those efforts, including possible partnerships with government agencies, did not materialize, she said.

After the Atlanta hospital closes, the only Level 1 trauma centers in the state will be Augusta University Medical Center, Atrium Navicent Health in Macon, Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta and Memorial Health University Medical Center in Savannah.

Level 1 is the highest designation for a trauma center, meaning it can offer comprehensive treatment from injury through rehabilitation, providing treatment for heart attacks, strokes, brain injuries and other serious medical conditions.

The CSRA also has a Level 2 trauma center, Doctors Hospital in Augusta and a Level 4 trauma center, Emanuel Medical Center in Swainsboro.

The announcement immediately became an issue in Georgia’s contentious governor’s race. It also prompted a rebuke from Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens, who told Saunders in a letter the city was blindsided by the news and needed “immediate information” about the company’s plans and what it was doing to “mitigate the enormous health and economic impacts the closure will have on our community.”

“Atlanta Medical Center is a critical element of Atlanta’s healthcare ecosystem,” Dickens said. “It serves some of Atlanta’s most vulnerable people.”

WellStar has run the 460-bed hospital since 2016, but a hospital has operated at that location in downtown Atlanta for more than a century.

Its closure would leave nearby Grady Memorial Hospital with the only emergency room in the city with the same designation. Cities of similar size like Houston and Philadelphia have multiple Level 1 trauma centers.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams said the closure was “yet another example of the failure of Brian Kemp to serve the people of Georgia.”

Georgia has experienced a spate of rural hospital closures that Abrams and other Democrats say the Republican governor could have prevented had he fully expanded Medicaid. Kemp has proposed a more limited expansion that would require recipients to work or attend school.

WellStar has said a full Medicaid expansion would not have saved Atlanta Medical Center.

Kemp’s office said in a statement that the governor shared community concerns about the impact of Atlanta Medical Center’s closure and that other hospitals and healthcare providers were in “active talks” about how it would affect their needs and services.

“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,” the statement said.

WellStar said it spent more than $350 million to cover losses and make improvements at AMC since taking over the hospital in 2016. The company operates nine other hospitals in Georgia, but recently moved to shut down the emergency room and inpatient beds at another facility — Atlanta Medical Center South.

That hospital was in East Point, also an area with a relatively high proportion of low-income residents.

WellStar said in a statement it spent more than $915 million last year in “unreimbursed care” for patients across the region and remains a top provider of charity care in Georgia and the U.S.