After weeks of drama, disappointment, Atlanta Medical Center to close

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

The doors to Atlanta Medical Center in downtown will be locked at 12 a.m. Tuesday, ending a century of health care for the poor at that site and leaving city and state officials still searching for a way to continue caring for nearby residents.

Wellstar Health System’s decision to close Atlanta Medical Center, one of the city’s largest providers of care for the poor, was met with shock. Community members, politicians and even AMC’s workers were all taken aback when The Atlanta Journal-Constitution broke the news on Aug. 31 that over the coming nine weeks the 460-bed hospital would be winding down operations.

Since then, patients and the hospital’s workers and patients have trickled away. The emergency room, which closed Oct. 14, has already caused nearby Grady Memorial Hospital and Mercy Care charity clinics to report jumps in traffic, and more impacts are predicted.

AMC’s downtown location, formerly known as Georgia Baptist Hospital, is the second Wellstar has closed this year. Atlanta Medical Center South, located in East Point, was reduced from a hospital and emergency room to an out-patient clinic earlier this year.

According to Wellstar, both AMC locations were losing money. Both hospitals served a patient population that included many low-income residents without insurance. In the year ending June 30, 2022, Wellstar reported an operating loss of $114 million for its two AMC locations.

Despite those losses, Wellstar Health System still earned money. In the same period, the period ending June 30, 2022, the entire Wellstar Health System reported operating income of $106 million, after expenses were subtracted.

Wellstar is a nonprofit hospital system, meaning that it pays no taxes and is expected to provide care for the wellbeing of the community.

Bree Davis, a new mom, hasn’t used the Atlanta Medical Center’s downtown hospital yet. But she had intended to if she needed help for her new baby.

Davis chose a pediatrician for her new baby in the Wellstar medical office buildings next to AMC, partly because the hospital was next door. Speaking to a reporter on Oct. 25 was the first time Davis learned the hospital was a week away from shutting down.

“I’m kind of in shock,” Davis said. “Because I didn’t know that they were closing.”

Having her new pediatrician across from a hospital gave her and her new baby security: “Just in case if something was to go on, you know, she’s right across the street. So literally, access is right there.”

Atlanta and state leaders and health officials said they were blindsided by the news.

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens has repeatedly condemned Wellstar’s decision to close the hospital, and the health system’s failure to alert local leaders in advance. However, early on following the announcement, officials said they were uncertain that anything could be done to stop it. Democratic leaders within the state saw the closure as rallying cry for Medicaid expansion in Georgia.

Local and state officials have scrambled to find funds to bolster the nearby hospitals where former AMC patients are now expected to seek care.

On Sept. 15, Gov. Brian Kemp announced he would send $130 million in aid from federal American Rescue Plan Act funds allocated to Georgia to the Grady Health System to add about 185 hospital beds. Additionally, the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners cleared a total of $20 million in funding to both Grady and Emory Hillandale hospitals.

Beverly Walker was at a doctor’s appointment last week in one of the Wellstar medical office buildings next to AMC. She is also a longtime customer of the hospital itself — for maybe 20 years, she said. She was in there just this year, getting an X-ray for her hand.

“I think it’s sad,” Walker said. “There’s a lot of people who went there, and it’s needed.”

To forestall the sale and redevelopment of the large AMC site — which covers nearly two city blocks — Dickens banned new land use applications ordering the city’s Planning Department to refuse any applications for rezoning, building permits or land disturbances on the land. Dickens has said Atlanta wants to prioritize the continued use of the site — in whole or in part — for health care services.

Ultimately, the Atlanta City Council unanimously voted to extend the site redevelopment ban for 180 days until April 23, 2023.

Most local emergency rooms ran above capacity before AMC’s closure. Other area hospitals have already begun to experience increases in emergency room traffic following AMC’s ER closures. Now, only one Level 1 trauma center remains in the city, at Grady. Level 1 trauma centers are able to provide care for every aspect of an injury.

More than two-thirds (67.3%) of the 4,281 emergency room patients that AMC saw in its downtown and East Point locations in 2019 were Black, and over half (51.5%) were Medicare and Medicaid recipients, according to data released by Wellstar in 2020.

Local officials met at an event hosted by the Atlanta Regional Collaborative for Healthcare Improvement (ARCHI) as part of a continuing conversation to discuss the health care needs of the city on October 21. Health care advocates are concerned that the city’s underserved communities will face worse health outcomes as a result of the closure.

“It’s incumbent upon local officials, both on the local level and the state level, to start talking to the citizens instead of talking to each other,” said Gerald Griggs, president of NAACP Georgia, during a press conference outside Atlanta’s city hall on Oct. 25.

Just a day earlier, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Wellstar had plans to fully shut down their East Point clinic which is still serving walk-in patients. Those patients will be shifted to a clinic next door, which Wellstar will subsidize for a limited time. Wellstar would not confirm the report.

“We’re getting worse instead of better,” Richard Rose, president of the Atlanta-Fulton County Branch of the NAACP, said. “We’ve got to stop the decline and move forward.”

AJC staff writer Ariel Hart contributed to this report.


About Atlanta Medical Center

Beds: 460

Location: Boulevard and Parkside Drive

Owned by: Wellstar Health System since 2015

Closure date: Nov. 1, 2022

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Timeline: Atlanta Medical Center closes

  • April 6, 2022

    Wellstar Health System announces plans to close the emergency department and hospital at Atlanta Medical Center South in East Point into an outpatient clinic.

  • Aug. 31

    Wellstar Health System confirms it will close Atlanta Medical Center in downtown Atlanta on Nov. 1. Local officials say they were not warned of the plans.

  • Sept. 8

    To prepare nearby Grady Memorial Hospital for the patient influx, Fulton County Commission approves $11 million in Federal Emergency Management Agency reimbursement dollars.

  • Sept. 15

    Gov. Brian Kemp announces a $130 million cash infusion to Grady Health System to add 185 hospital beds.

  • Sept. 26

    Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens orders the City Planning Department to refuse any applications for rezoning or building on AMC’s downtown land.

  • Oct. 14

    Atlanta Medical Center’s emergency room closes.

  • Oct. 17

    Atlanta City Council extends AMC site redevelopment moratorium until April 2023.

  • Oct. 24

    Wellstar announces a $5 million investment in a primary care clinic next door to Atlanta Medical Center South