How Atlanta Medical Center serves Georgians

What the news of AMC’s closure means, as told by patients, family members and community leaders

The news last week that Atlanta Medical Center will soon shutter its doors shocked the medical community, politicians, and patients who rely on the hospital for care.

Atlanta Medical Center, a 460-bed hospital in downtown Atlanta, is winding down to cease operations on Nov. 1. Wellstar Health System, which owns the hospital, has said the losses at AMC were not sustainable.

While the closure of Atlanta Medical Center is both a public health story and a political story, it’s also a personal one for many Georgians. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution wanted to share some of those stories, and so we spoke to former patients, family members, and other community leaders who recounted their experiences.

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When Destiny Shivers became pregnant, she knew she wanted to be cared by medical staff who looked like her.

Shivers, a Black woman, feared that her pain or concerns would not be taken as seriously during the birthing process. So, she sought out Atlanta Medical Center and felt comfortable that many of her nurses were also Black.

“I didn’t have any problems with them denying my pain, and the after-care was also just as great,” said Shivers, who gave birth at the height of the pandemic in 2020. “We’re about to close a hospital where the majority of the patients look like the majority of the providers.”

Shivers, 23, said she has friends preparing to give birth who will have difficulties traveling to a hospital that’s farther out, particularly those who rely on public transportation. She worries that Grady Memorial Hospital won’t be able to handle the increase in patients that will result from the closure of AMC.

“The closing is going to just push people out further than they really can go,” she said. “If Grady is the only other option we are screwed. Grady is full and always has been full.”

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Bob Trammell said he was troubled by the news of Atlanta Medical Center’s closure. Trammell, who served as minority leader of the Georgia House of Representatives until 2021, lives in the small city of Luthersville, about 50 miles southwest of Atlanta.

His grandfather and father were both airlifted to Atlanta Medical Center in 1989 and 2016, respectively. Both men in a fight for their lives: his grandfather had an accident with a tractor, and his dad had a cerebral hemorrhagic stroke.

Sadly, both men died, but Trammell says Atlanta Medical Center provided the best possible care for his relatives who were in a life-or-death situation. As a designated Level 1 trauma center for the region, Atlanta Medical Center also serves people in West Georgia. Trammell fears that lives could be lost as a result of the closure.

“It’s easy to see [the closure of] Atlanta Medical Center as an Atlanta story,” he said. “But it has such deeper tentacles. Because we’re 50 miles outside, we’re in a spot where if Atlanta Medical isn’t covering those calls, who is?”

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Jessica Umberger gave birth at Atlanta Medical Center while she was incarcerated. She recalled it was difficult navigating the strict rules imposed by the state — including only being allowed to hold her baby for two hours before she was returned to prison.

But she also thinks about how Atlanta Medical Center closing could make the situation worse for pregnant women behind bars.

“If it hadn’t been for AMC what would have happened? Where would we have actually given birth?” she said.

Umberger, who is now 41, gave birth in 2018, but since then the rules have changed, said Amy Ard, the executive director of Motherhood Beyond Bars.

Now, mothers are allowed to spend 24 hours with their child after giving birth, said Ard, whose organization assists pregnant women who are incarcerated and their infants upon separation. Ard credits Atlanta Medical Center for making that policy change happen.

“Atlanta Medical Center handled (these births) as well they could with all of the constraints of the Georgia Department of Corrections,” she said. “I don’t tend to be very optimistic about these things, because I think it could always get worse for the women who are currently incarcerated.”

Several women who currently are incarcerated are expected to give birth by the end of the year. The Department of Corrections said that these women will give birth at other area hospitals.

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Plemon El-Amin, imam emeritus of the Atlanta Masjid of Al-Islam, has counseled patients and families over the years at Atlanta Medical Center. It was a much needed institution, El-Amin said. He too fears that Grady Memorial Hospital won’t be able to handle an influx of patients.

Perhaps, he mused, with more state or county support, Atlanta Medical Center could have kept its doors open. There were always people coming in for care and many didn’t have adequate coverage or lacked insurance.

“I guess it was inevitable that it was going to come to this end,” he said.

Staff writer Shelia Poole contributed to this report.