ATLANTA — Wellstar Health System announced it plans to cease operations at Atlanta Medical Center in November.
In a news release, Wellstar said the decision came after "pursuing every opportunity for an alternative path forward."
The hospital, which Wellstar has operated since 2016, has faced some challenges, including $107 million in losses in the last year. The health system officials said they'd battled decreasing revenue along with an increase in costs for staff and supplies; inflation and the pandemic have contributed to some of the strain.
“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. “After an exhaustive search for a solution that would support the healthcare needs of the community, we are disappointed that a sustainable solution at AMC has not emerged.”
While they plan to end AMC hospital operations on Nov. 1 of this year, they plan to work with healthcare organizations to plan for a transition of care for its patients and staff. Services will wind down gradually as the date approaches.
Wellstar said they've let healthcare providers and government agencies know of this change as they search for partnerships and solutions.
Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens' office said he sent a letter to Saunders, stating that the announcement blindsided the city and the closure" will have deep and reverberating consequences" for residents. He's requesting a meeting with the health system's key leaders by Sept. 16.
"The City of Atlanta received no advance notice of this decision and had no opportunity to engage with you to understand or help mitigate the factors leading to this closure," the letter reads. "I require immediate information about your company’s plans, what you are doing to mitigate the enormous health and economic impacts the closure will have on our community, plans for the multi-building campus once operations cease, and how you will be supporting the impacted personnel."
Dickens also noted that AMC is a vital part of "Atlanta's healthcare ecosystem," as Grady Memorial Hospital is the only other Level I trauma center in metro Atlanta.
A few months ago, Wellstar Atlanta Medical Center South in East Point closed its emergency department. The major health system said in May it is a 24-hour urgent care and rehabilitation facility instead.
"With this decision, and the recent closure of Wellstar Atlanta Medical Center South, your company has now closed two hospitals that primarily serve low-income populations in the metro Atlanta community," Dickens said.
He added that the closure would leave an "open wound" in the community as it sits in the heart of the Old Fourth Ward neighborhood. Read the mayor's letter in full here.
Gov. Brian Kemp also responded Wednesday night to Atlanta Medical Center closing. His office released the following statement:
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. 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.
Grady Health System issued a statement saying its "extremely disappointment" with the decision. You can read its full statement below:
Grady Health System is extremely disappointed in Wellstar’s decision to close Atlanta Medical Center (AMC), which serves a predominantly minority and underserved community. In April, Wellstar made the decision to close the AMC South location with the caveat that they would remain committed to serving the community. Closing its second hospital in less than six months will have a devastating impact on patients, employees, and the Southeast region. Further, by not having a transition plan and referral mechanism for its patients, there will be harmful consequences on healthcare access for the people of metro Atlanta and hospitals across the region.
As a not-for-profit health system, Wellstar’s mission was to enhance the health and well-being of every member of the community, but they have clearly prioritized profits over people leaving 460 licensed hospital beds in the community empty and more than 120 patients per day having to seek emergency care elsewhere.
Grady is really the only true safety net in Georgia, and it runs over capacity daily, and this decision by Wellstar to abandon the community will further strain our operations, particularly our emergency room, as more patients will present with medical needs. We have seen a significant increase in emergency room visits since AMC South closed, which will be further exacerbated once the downtown AMC location is closed.
Grady’s commitment to serving our community with excellence will remain unchanged as we stand true in our mission to enhance the health and well-being of every patient we serve. Grady is exploring all legal options available to protect our patients, employees, and this entire region.