AU Health signs letter of intent to join Wellstar Health System

Augusta University Health announced Tuesday it intends to join a partnership that will bring it into Atlanta-based Wellstar Health System.
Published: Dec. 27, 2022 at 4:00 PM EST|Updated: Dec. 27, 2022 at 4:45 PM EST
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - Augusta University Health announced Tuesday it intends to join a partnership that will bring it into Marietta-based Wellstar Health System.

The letter of intent will “form an innovative new partnership that would expand Augusta University’s educational and research missions and allow Wellstar Health System to create a broader affiliation with the university’s Medical College of Georgia,” the university said in an announcement.

The move mirrors one earlier this year that brought the Augusta-based former University Health System into Piedmont Health System, also based in Atlanta.

Before the AU Health announcement, not-for-profit Wellstar said it had nine hospitals.

That’s one less than it had a few months ago.

The health system on Nov. 1 closed a so-called safety-net hospital, Wellstar Atlanta Medical Center, in a controversial action that left Atlanta with one less Level 1 trauma center. WellStar said it had spent more than $350 million to cover losses and make improvements since taking over the hospital in 2016.

While unfortunate for Atlanta, the closure held potential to make AU Medical Center more important as one of only four Level 1 trauma centers in the state.

Also before the AU Health announcement, Wellstar also said it had:

  • Eight emergency departments.
  • More than 300 medical office locations.
  • Nine cancer centers.
  • More than 50 rehabilitation centers.
  • Three hospice facilities.
  • Four senior living centers.
  • 21 imaging centers.
  • 18 urgent-care locations.
  • Five health parks.

AU said the potential partnership is the culmination of a “thoughtful and deliberate process” begun in 2019 to strategically grow the Medical College of Georgia while expanding and improving and expanding access to care.

The university touted the potential to innovate clinical care, training and research “while adopting a successful model of bringing together community-based health systems and academic medical centers.”

A new teaching campus in Atlanta at Wellstar Kennestone Hospital could be established under the proposed partnership. As a result, MCG, already with the ninth-largest freshman medical school class in the nation, would grow to become one of the largest public medical schools in the country.

“With our entire nation facing a physician shortage and our state typically ranking about 40th in the number of physicians per capita, educating the next generation of physicians is more critical than ever,” said David Hess, MD, dean of MCG.

He said the partnership would let the school’s students residents continue to learn from some of the most highly qualified physicians and other health care professionals in the state.

As part of the University System of Georgia, MCG is the only public medical school in Georgia.

USG Chancellor Sonny Perdue said the partnership would “leverage Wellstar’s clinical platform and leading-edge systems to support patients” while providing more opportunities for students to learn, train and care in local communities.

While parts of the partnership are yet to be determined, it “would likely result in significant investments to improve existing healthcare facilities and to expand access to care across the state, including a new hospital and medical office buildings in Columbia County,” AU said.

“Providing health care has never been as dynamic and complex as it is today, and this partnership with the Georgia-based, not-for-profit Wellstar Health System would enable us to extend our mission,” AU President Brooks A. Keel said.