Atlanta council tables proposal to turn hospital site into equity center

Credit: Natrice Miller / AJC

Credit: Natrice Miller / AJC

Atlanta City Council members have held off on advancing a proposal to study the possibility of turning the Atlanta Medical Center into an equity center.

Last week, Atlanta City Council members Michael Julian Bond and Mary Norwood introduced a resolution for the creation of a “Wellstar Hospital study group.” The resolution limits the group’s recommendations to an equity center, which runs counter to keeping a medical facility on the site — which is preferred by the mayor’s office and several council members.

Wellstar Health System officials on Aug. 31 announced plans to close the AMC by Nov. 1, with plans to close the emergency room on Friday. The announcement upset many people because the AMC 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.

Matt Westmoreland, an Atlanta City Councilman and chair of the council’s community development/human services committee, said on Tuesday that Bond’s proposal doesn’t include any community members from the area where the AMC is located.

Westmoreland also pointed out that City Council members Liliana Bakhtiari and Amir Farokhi aren’t included in the proposed study group even though the AMC is located in their districts.

“I have a little hesitation around the scope, narrowing in on a center of equity all by itself as opposed to having a conversation about 20 acres in the heart of the neighborhood,” Westmoreland said. “My biggest concern is we don’t own the property...We actually have no say, at least at the moment, in what will wind up there.”

Bond apologized for not including Farokhi and Bakhtiari in the proposed study group, and said he and Norwood created the resolution “on the fly” at the end of last Monday’s council meeting, which is when the lawmakers held a contentious debate over the future use of Atlanta’s detention center.

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

In 2020, advocates for criminal justice reform convened with business leaders and local government officials to propose that the city’s mostly empty detention center be repurposed into a place that addresses homelessness, mental illness and poverty in the community. But several leaders, including Bond, want to use the center to house inmates from Fulton County’s overcrowded jail.

Norwood said they narrowed the scope of the Wellstar study group because they thought the hospital site’s future use could resolve Fulton’s desire to use the detention center. Ultimately, the committee voted to table the proposal for two weeks.

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens, meanwhile, has issued an executive order for the city to refuse applications for rezoning, building permits, land disturbances, special administrative permits, subdivisions, replatting or lot consolidations at the AMC site. He renewed the temporary ban last week, and the council is expected to extend the ban further on Monday.

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