Ga. lawmakers OK $105 million for medical college amid Wellstar talks

Students at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University. (Courtesy photo)

Students at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University. (Courtesy photo)

The Georgia Legislature approved spending $105 million in state money on a new electronic medical records system for the Medical College of Georgia, part of Augusta University.

Lawmakers finalized the midyear spending plan earlier this week, agreeing to fully fund the amount Gov. Brian Kemp requested for the project. The total $32.5 billion midyear budget now goes to Kemp for his signature.

The state Senate in February initially sliced funding for the records system to about $50 million, but the amount was restored to $105 million in the final budget deal between the two chambers. The university plans to contribute another $10 million to pay for the updates.

The request comes as Wellstar Health System is negotiating a partnership with AU Health System and could possibly take it over. Officials have said the medical records upgrades are needed regardless of that deal’s outcome.

The arrangement provoked backlash from Democrats who said Wellstar could potentially benefit from the $105 million tech upgrades even after the healthcare system shuttered a pair of hospitals that serve predominantly minority communities in metro Atlanta.

State Rep. Kim Schofield, D-Atlanta, accused Wellstar of striking “side deals” to pave the way for a new hospital in Augusta after leaving underserved communities in a lurch.

“It’s a blatant, blatant action for discrimination and it won’t be tolerated. Wellstar took their resources and left our community scarred,” Schofield said, adding: “We are committed to holding Wellstar accountable. You won’t get away with this one.”

She was among several metro Atlanta officials who filed federal complaints on Wednesday that challenged Wellstar’s nonprofit status and questioned whether the closures violate civil rights protections. Wellstar didn’t immediately comment.

The new records system will improve operations at Augusta University Medical Center and other facilities under the Augusta University Health System, officials said.

Augusta University, in a statement to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, said it’s “grateful to receive support from the governor and legislature.” The school said the new records system will provide better continuity of care for patients who are treated by multiple medical college faculty physicians and improve financial operations.

“A new, innovative and efficient EMR system will allow MCG to provide its medical students and residents with training using state-of-the-art technology at clinical locations across Georgia, benefiting all patients who see MCG faculty physicians for their care,” the statement said.

Staff Writer Greg Bluestein contributed to this report.