MACON, Ga. — The future of the only clinic in Central and south Georgia that treats ALS is up in the air.
ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease, is a progressive nervous system disease that weakens patients' muscles and impacts their physical function-- making therapy at these clinics even more essential.
Atrium Health notified patients by letter October 14 that the clinic would close January 31. However, after 13WMAZ began asking questions, Atrium released a statement Wednesday saying they're delaying the closure.
Throughout the day, I've spoken to caregivers of ALS patients who said Atrium's decision to close the clinic could even be life threatening for patients.
However, just before this story was set to air, Atrium Health Navicent released a statement saying they're indefinitely postponing their planned closure while they address "vulnerabilities."
But still, they said, this is only a delay in this essential clinic being closed.
"It's like being blindfolded going through the woods every single day," said Molly Hattaway.
Hattaway says her and her family's life changed forever in July 2021.
Her mother, Judy Jones, was diagnosed with ALS.
"We've gone from my walking, talking vibrant mother to being in a motor chair all day long. Having to be in a Hoyer lift to move her. She's down to one working hand, that's it... nothing else works. To having a neck brace, breathing machine," Hattaway said.
Hattaway says this 15 month journey was made easier by the ALS Clinic in Macon where her mother sees a doctor, respiratory therapists, physical therapists, nutritionists and more.
"...and here we are close to the end of life. Her clinic family is gone," Hattaway said.
Atrium Health Navicent notified patients by letter that the clinic would shut down January 31 because the clinic's doctor, Dr. Michael Rivner, was leaving.
"Well, that's not true. I was caught by surprise on September 20 when they told me that they were closing the clinic," Rivner said.
Rivner told 13WMAZ he had no intention to close the clinic that treats roughly 150 patients. He says he's driven back and forth from Augusta to Macon three times a month for 12 years.
He says he does not know why Atrium suddenly announced a closure.
Meanwhile, patients in central and south Georgia are searching for another place to get care.
The closest other ALS Clinics are Atlanta, Augusta, Charlotte, North Carolina or Jacksonville, Florida.
"How do you take someone who is in a motorized chair who is incontinent and make them travel that far on a breathing machine. It's taxing," Rivner said.
Hattaway says thankfully, her family has the means to transport her mother to get the care she needs, but she says once Atrium closes the clinic, it will especially hurt ALS patients without family or support.
"How many people are living on disability that can't even afford the additional gas money to get them to a different clinic. It's horrible. Absolutely horrible. People are just going to die by themselves because they don't have the things they are going to need that they would be able to get through this clinic," Hattaway said.
No word on what Atrium Health Navicent will do next or when the clinic will close.
Atrium Health Navicent's full statement:
“Over the last few months, we have been carefully considering the future of the ALS Clinic located at Atrium Health Navicent Rehabilitation Hospital and how we can provide these critical services to patients and families living with this debilitating disease. Having heard from our patients and dedicated clinicians and listening to their feedback, we are indefinitely postponing our planned closure of the clinic while we address vulnerabilities that can help us ensure ongoing access to high-quality care to this patient community. Atrium Health Navicent and our teammates focus on our For All mission through care delivery and demonstrate our ongoing commitment to the communities we serve and will use this learning to support critical services throughout the region.
At Atrium Health Navicent, in our quest to balance competing dynamics while focusing on patient care, we might not always get everything right, but when it is made clear to us, we course correct and make changes which represent the ongoing commitment to our values and patients we serve.”