Inside City Hall: News of hospital closure comes as blindside to mayor’s office

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The announcement last week that Wellstar Health System plans to close Atlanta Medical Center, one of metro Atlanta’s two Level I trauma centers, caught the city — and its leaders — by surprise.

In a scathing letter to Wellstar Wednesday evening, Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens said the city received no advance notice of the company’s plans, and demanded answers on how it plans to mitigate the economic and health care impacts of the closure, which is scheduled for Nov. 1.

“The closure will leave an open wound in the heart of this community with no articulated plans for its conversion or transition once the hospital ceases operations,” the mayor wrote. He also noted that with the recent closure of the emergency room at Wellstar Atlanta Medical Center South in East Point, ”your company has now closed two hospitals that primarily serve low-income populations in the metro Atlanta community.”

Credit: Andre for Atlanta

Credit: Andre for Atlanta

Wellstar’s announcement led to immediate criticism and worry from other local officials, including Council President Doug Shipman and Councilman Amir Farohki, who represents the Old Fourth Ward and said the closure “means a further reduction of access to care for thousands of Georgians.”

Attention now turns to how the city’s health care network can make up for the loss of a critical emergency room, and if there’s anything City Hall can do to mitigate the loss. Dickens asked for a meeting within the next two weeks.

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For years, Atlanta has looked for ways to improve operations at its 911 call center, which handles thousands of calls every day and has struggled with staffing issues.

New tech upgrades at the cell center could make a dent in longer-than-normal wait times, police department officials recently told a City Council committee.

The new phone system will prioritize 911 calls, rather than callers who dial the 10-digit number that also goes to the call center, and will allow dispatchers to place lower-priority callers on hold. The Policing Alternatives and Diversion program is also working with 911 officials to divert non-emergency, quality-of-life calls to free up more officers.

On one recent week, about 75% of all 911 calls in Atlanta were answered in under 20 seconds. That’s doesn’t meet the national standard set by the National Emergency Number Association, which states that 95% should be answered within 20 seconds.

That’s “not where we wanted to be,” call center director Desiree Arnold told the council. But she said progress has been made this year. “We are trending in the right direction.”

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When the city got an influx of COVID relief cash in 2020, it allocated millions toward finding apartments for over 1,400 people experiencing homelessness. Now, it’s embarking on the second phase of that effort, with local nonprofits hoping to house 1,500 people by year’s end.

Our colleague Katherine Landergan has all the details on the program, its challenges and why the city’s lead homelessness agency purchased its own motel property.

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Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Atlanta just received a flush of new funds to support the Atlanta students pursuing a higher education. Last week, Dickens raised more than $94,000 for the Mayor’s Youth Scholarship Program during the 2022 Mayor’s Golf Cup at Browns Mill Golf Course.

Additionally, the event organizers of the he 3rd Annual Mayor’s Black Pride Reception presented a $50,000 donation to the scholarship program. Dickens hosted the event to kick off Atlanta’s Black Pride Weekend.

WILBORN NOBLES III

Wilborn P. Nobles III covers the Atlanta mayor's policies for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Wil (not "Willie" or "William") previously covered Baltimore County government at The Baltimore Sun, but he never finished "The Wire." He also covered education for the Times-Picayune in his hometown of New Orleans, so he tries to avoid discussions about football. Wil used to play tuba for his high school marching band, but he eventually put down his horn to intern at The Washington Post. The Louisiana State University graduate enjoys gardening, comedy, and music.

Wilborn.Nobles@ajc.com

J.D. CAPELOUTO

J.D. Capelouto is a local news reporter covering City Hall and all things intown Atlanta for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. His work focuses the City Council, neighborhood issues, public safety, housing and transportation. J.D. was born and raised in Atlanta and has lived in the city all his life, except for four years at Boston University, where he studied journalism and learned how to dress for cold weather. He’s been with the AJC since 2018, and has previously written for The Boston Globe and the Thomson Reuters Foundation. When he’s not reporting or scrolling through Twitter, J.D. enjoys pop culture podcasts, “Survivor” and visiting various pools around Atlanta.

Joseph.Capelouto@ajc.com