ATLANTA — Like many neighborhoods in cities across the country, Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward is changing.
Condo buildings and modern minimalist homes dot the city blocks of low-income housing. Many longtime residents of the historic neighborhood where Martin Luther King Jr. was born have been priced out and pushed to other parts of the city.
Atlanta Medical Center, a 460-bed Level 1 trauma center, will be the next fixture to convert.
Despite banners proclaiming the hospital’s commitment to the area — “120 years of care for Atlanta,” one reads — its nonprofit owner, WellStar Health System, recently opened the hospital’s doors on Nov. 1. The closure plan has been announced.
Georgia has seen many rural hospitals shutter over the past decade, but this year Atlanta has joined other urban centers with facility closings, including a previous downsizing at a facility in nearby East Point. .
WellStar’s announcement has fueled the political debate over Medicaid expansion ahead of the Nov. 8 midterm elections. Like 11 other states, Georgia has not expanded eligibility rules for its Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act, and hospital officials across the state say the inaction has hurt their bottom lines. is because they still treat large numbers of uninsured patients, many of whom cannot pay. Treatment.
Wellstar’s announcement shocked city officials, including Mayor Andre Dickens, as well as others in the community.
On a recent weekday morning, Teresa Smith, 60, who lives in the neighborhood, said she often receives care there for a chronic digestive problem. “This hospital will be missed by the whole community,” he said.
Liliana Bakhtiari, an Atlanta City Council member whose district includes the hospital, was quick in her assessment. “There will be loss of life and serious injuries that will not be taken care of and I wish it mattered more to Wellstar,” he said.
Wellstar declined KHN’s request for an interview about the closure.
Nancy Cain, an adjunct professor at Harvard’s TH Chan School of Public Health, looks at the connection between Atlanta’s situation and hospital closings in other major cities.
Many were acquired by large health care companies as part of package deals, and largely served low-income, minority populations.
“If you acquire a hospital, you should have a responsibility to fix it,” Kane said. “WellStar has the funds to invest in this hospital. It’s a choice.”
Some community members wonder if the hospital’s closing will lead to valuable real estate development on about 20 acres of land owned by Wellstar in the neighborhood.
“It could become a blank slate, either for redevelopment or for new development,” said Randy Pimzler, an architect whose firm has designed projects in the area.
Politicians are quick to turn the shutdown into a campaign issue. And at the center of the debate is Gov. Brian Kemp’s health care policy.
Camp’s team is working to develop a long-term plan to strengthen health care in the area after the closure, said Camp spokesman Andrew Eisenhower. Kemp, a Republican running for a second term in November, is unlikely to try to keep the facility open.
But officials at the nonprofit Grady Health System said this week that they have met with Kemp’s office, Dickens, and Fulton and DeKalb counties officials about injecting state funding into Grady Memorial Hospital, a level one. 1 Trauma Center will meet capital requirements. About a mile from Atlanta Medical Center.
Grady is anticipating 2,500 additional emergency room visits a month after Atlanta Medical Center closes its doors.
“We can absorb all the trauma,” Grady Health System CEO John Huppert said. Still, the additional ER crunch will be a challenge with more patient arrivals, said Ryan Luke, Grady’s chief health policy officer.
The state funding will accelerate current plans to convert Grady’s offices into inpatient care spaces, adding more than 180 adult beds within a year from now. The hospital is adding 40 to 45 beds over the next six weeks, and plans to install a 24-bed field hospital to help handle the flow of patients from the closed hospital.
Hoppert said the closing puts Medicaid expansion “front and center” in the political conversation. Camp has proposed a limited plan that would provide access to state-federal insurance programs to those who can meet a work requirement or similar obligation.
His challenger, Democrat Stacey Abrams, has long made Medicaid expansion a key campaign issue.
“It’s not surprising anymore,” Abrams said. “This is expected because the camp management refuses to take action.”
Pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, US Sen. Rep. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), who lives less than a mile from the hospital, also condemned the shutdown and the cost to health care facilities of Georgia’s refusal to expand Medicaid. The pressure is referred to. WellStar officials have said the Medicaid expansion isn’t the only thing keeping the Atlanta facility open.
Earlier this year, WellStar stopped providing emergency room and inpatient services at its hospital in East Point, just southwest of Atlanta. At the time, he said those patients could be seen at Atlanta Medical Center, 8 miles away. Hoppert estimated that Atlanta’s soon-to-be-closed hospital would cost hundreds of millions of dollars to modernize, making rescues difficult.
Andra Gillespie, an associate professor of political science at Emory University, said the shutdown could help Abrams’ arguments for expanding Medicaid resonate with voters just a few months apart. “An issue that might have been better suited to rural Georgia has suddenly become an Atlanta-area issue,” he said.
Gillespie warned that other issues, such as inflation, crime, and abortion, are likely to be more motivating for Georgia voters.
Wellstar, based in suburban Marietta, acquired AMC and East Point Hospital from Tenet Healthcare during an acquisition push in 2016, part of a $575 million deal that included three other hospitals in the metro region.
Todd Green, formerly a member of Wellstar’s community board for AMC, said the system has poured more resources into its suburban facilities.
“WellStar’s suburban hospital-based management approach has unfortunately resulted in large portions of Atlanta’s black and brown communities not having access to close and critical health care services,” he said in a written statement.
In announcing Wellstar’s closure, it said it had invested more than $350 million in capital improvements at the facility since 2016 and had “lost $107 million in revenue” in the past 12 months alone. Between shortages and rising costs of personnel and supplies. Rising inflation.”
The decision to close the hospital did not come as a surprise to some staff members, with Dr. Sulaiman Waziruddin, the hospital’s emergency medicine physician, saying doctors were “aware of the financial losses.”
But the sudden announcement caused a deep sense of grief among doctors, nurses and other non-medical employees, he said.
In the days since the closing was announced, Grady has offered jobs to a number of Atlanta Medical Center employees, from doctors and nurses to housekeeping and security staff.
David Patton has lived in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward for 30 years and said the Atlanta Medical Center has been a big part of his life.
His grandfather died in an on-campus nursing home, he received care in the ER, and his son took swimming lessons at the hospital’s athletic club, while he described the neighborhood as a “forgotten” part of town. Seen changing from Which has become a lightning rod for new development.
“It boggles my mind that an institution like this would close almost overnight,” he said.
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