At town hall, Atlanta mayor slams Wellstar’s planned hospital closure

Credit: Steve Schaefer/AJC

Credit: Steve Schaefer/AJC

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens said Wednesday that Wellstar Health System’s closure of the Atlanta Medical Center is because the nonprofit is more interested in profits than poor people.

Dickens took aim at Wellstar during a community town hall at Cascade United Methodist Church, and said the health care provider’s actions suggest that taking care of low-income families isn’t in their business model.

The AMC, formerly known as Georgia Baptist Hospital, is a 120-year-old institution in the Old Fourth Ward that serves low-income families as one of the region’s two Level I trauma centers. Wellstar purchased the AMC as well as Atlanta Medical Center South — the only emergency room in Fulton County south of I-20 — as part of a package of five hospitals in 2015.

But Wellstar closed AMC South in May, and in August it announced plans to close AMC on Nov. 1. It closed AMC’s emergency room last week.

“Wellstar said they don’t want to be in the business of urban health care. That’s essentially what they said when they closed AMC North, which is Georgia Baptist, and AMC South in East Point,” said Dickens. “When they closed AMC South, which was where I was born, that hurt our communities.”

Credit: John Spink /

Credit: John Spink /

The mayor said Wellstar’s actions show that they only really wanted the three hospitals on the northside of town. Dickens said Wellstar’s decision impacts the residents who relied on the AMC as their primary care provider.

Dickens issued an executive order last month to prohibit the city from accepting redevelopment applications for the AMC site. He renewed the temporary moratorium on Oct. 4, and on Monday, the Atlanta City Council passed an ordinance to extend the ban for 180 days.

“They can’t sell the hospital and knock it down and make condos or a fancy Starbucks or whatever,” Dickens said. “The community knows that we need a hospital.”

Gov. Brian Kemp announced in September that the state will provide $130 million in federal American Rescue Plan funding to Grady Health System to offset the impact of AMC’s closure. DeKalb County commissioners approved plans to support Grady and Emory Hillandale hospitals with $20 million.

Credit: Natrice Miller /

Credit: Natrice Miller /

Dickens said his administration is also having conversations about how they can address the lack of hospitals south of I-20.

Lisa Gordon, Atlanta’s chief operating officer, said the administration is working to ensure residents will have information on where they obtain health care before Nov. 1. She also said the city is convening with local government entities and health care providers to identify the region’s gaps in health care.

Ultimately, the long term goal is to create a system that provides health care to residents citywide, Gordon said.

“In some communities, there’s not even one doctor’s office, not one urgent care, and we can’t have that in our community,” she said.