Medical College of Georgia’s $105M request comes amid Wellstar talks

Students at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University. PHOTO CONTRIBUTED.

Students at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University. PHOTO CONTRIBUTED.

State officials are asking the Georgia Legislature to pay $105 million in taxpayer dollars toward a new electronic medical records system for the Medical College of Georgia, part of Augusta University.

The new records system would improve operations at Augusta University Medical Center and other facilities under the Augusta University Health System, according to school officials and documents.

The request comes as Cobb County-based Wellstar Health System is negotiating a deal to partner with AU Health System and possibly take it over. Officials have not specified whether Wellstar would take financial control over the health system.

Augusta University President Brooks Keel said the medical college needs to upgrade its records system “regardless of whether a partnership is established with Wellstar.” Such updates have been sought for more than seven years but didn’t happen because of “financial constraints,” he said in a written statement.

The university would contribute another $10 million to the effort.

University System of Georgia Chancellor Sonny Perdue told lawmakers at a recent budget hearing that doing the project alone, without Wellstar’s expertise or staff support, would cost up to $185 million.

“The partnership with Wellstar is a better value because they’ve gone through this. They’ve implemented that,” Perdue said.

The medical college’s current electronic records system is inefficient, sometimes requiring clinics to use outdated “paper and pencil” methods to schedule patients and bill insurance, according to University System documents obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution through an open-records request.

The outdated system also makes it cumbersome to identify patients who are eligible for clinical trials, and medical students need the chance to learn on a modern system.

“This is a large ask, we certainly appreciate that,” Keel told lawmakers. “But it gives us a chance to advance our electronic medical records so we can provide that sort of training.”

Georgia House Speaker Jon Burns, speaking to reporters at a recent press conference, told the AJC he didn’t see the $105 million request as a gift to Wellstar should a deal go through.

“I think the Medical College of Georgia is important to all Georgians across this entire state, as is the Children’s Hospital of Georgia that’s a part of that. It’s providing health care not only in rural Georgia, but all across our state. There’s some modernization that’s investment that we needed to make as citizens of this state into the Medical College of Georgia,” he said.

University officials announced in December they intend to partner with Wellstar. Wellstar did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

The Medical College of Georgia is the state’s only public medical school. It has partnerships with physicians and hospitals across Georgia.

Perdue told lawmakers that university officials approached several entities about creating a partnership and that Wellstar “was the last group standing.” He said the pact includes safeguards to make sure the state is protected, and the deal will undergo attorney general review before it’s finalized.

Wellstar in its last posted financial statement from 2021 declared more than $2 billion in net assets. In 2022, Wellstar closed Atlanta Medical Center in downtown Atlanta, one of the state’s few Level 1 trauma centers, and Atlanta Medical Center South in East Point.