Kemp announces $130M aid package to boost Grady

Credit: Bob Andres

Credit: Bob Andres

Looming closure of Atlanta Medical Center means nearby Grady will become the city’s sole health care safety net for the poor

Gov. Brian Kemp announced his plan Thursday to provide a $130 million cash infusion to Grady Health System to build nearly 200 additional hospital beds and shore up what will soon become the only acute trauma hospital in metro Atlanta.

The rescue package for Grady comes after the Wellstar Health System made the shocking announcement two weeks ago that it was closing Atlanta Medical Center, the only other safety net for the poor and acute trauma facility in the city. The funding would finance at least 185 new beds at Grady Memorial Hospital that would be added by the end of 2023.

Kemp is tapping money that Georgia was allocated through the American Rescue Plan Act, a federal coronavirus relief package that he opposed. As governor, Kemp has the unilateral authority to spend the money as he pleases.

“These additional 200 beds will come online in a rolling fashion as Grady moves into its new surgical tower next year,” Kemp said. “This is more than enough capacity to cover” the patients that AMC serves.

Officials also said they expect to line up as much as $50 million in philanthropic donations, though they are still in the midst of securing that funding.

“There have been some commitments that have been made,” said Fulton County Commission chair Robb Pitts. “The business community is going to join with us.”

Kemp was joined by Grady Health System’s chief executive officer John Haupert, Pitts and DeKalb County chief executive Michael Thurmond. Several other hospital executives also attended the Capitol press conference in a show of unity from healthcare leaders behind Kemp’s proposal.

Fulton and DeKalb counties are responsible for covering the uncompensated care of their residents who utilize Grady. According to Grady officials, that cost is about $300 million, but currently the counties only fund 34% of the uncompensated care for their citizens.

The governor said that the state is also relocating a temporary medical unit that was used during the early COVID-19 surge to Grady. This will give Grady another 24 temporary patient rooms while the permanent beds are gradually added. What’s more, Fulton County’s leaders are trying to spur the development of a new hospital in the southern half of the county, Pitts said. But creating a new hospital could take a decade to complete, he said.

Credit: Bob Andres

Credit: Bob Andres

Grady officials also said that the extra investments will help make the hospital the largest and most comprehensive Level 1 trauma center in the country. Haupert also emphasized that there are other “excellent” Level 2 trauma centers that offer similar clinical care and can take on new patients as well.

Credit: Natrice Miller / AJC

Credit: Natrice Miller / AJC

Kemp’s opponents have seized on Wellstar’s decision to close Atlanta Medical Center as a political issue. Stacey Abrams, a Democrat who is running against Kemp in November, has cast blame on the governor for opposing Medicaid expansion, saying that could have helped AMC.

“This crisis cannot be fixed with half-measures,” Abrams said. “Georgians know what we desperately need: fully expanded Medicaid to ensure that hospitals across Georgia can keep their doors open and the lights on.”

Kemp countered that Abrams has falsely blamed him for the hospital’s systemic financial woes. He has championed a more limited plan to increase Medicaid enrollees if they meet work and academic requirements, saying that a full-fledged expansion would be too costly and inflexible.

Wellstar says that Medicaid expansion alone would not have saved the facility, though Medicaid expansion has helped bolster the finances of struggling hospitals and improved residents’ access to emergency care.

“I don’t go around worried about what the Democrats are attacking me on all day,” said Kemp. “What I’m doing is trying to attack the problems that are affecting hardworking Georgians.”

Faith leaders spoke out against the closure on Thursday, and planned a dueling press conference across the street from the Wellstar Atlanta Medical Center Entrance. Bishop Reginald T. Jackson called the state’s health care system an “utter mess.”

“People are literally dying and not being provided with the care they deserve,” said Jackson, who is the presiding prelate of the Sixth Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. We are tired of the passive, deer in the headlights, flat-footed approach.”

Some patients and their family members are also not yet giving up hope on the possibility that Atlanta Medical Center could stay open.

Ana Carril-Grumberg is one of those family members, who credits Atlanta Medical Center with saving the life of her infant grandson during a dangerous delivery. Her daughter had an emergency c-section in July, after the baby’s umbilical cord had become wrapped around his neck.

Carril-Grumberg said she doesn’t understand why the government can’t pay the price needed to revive AMC.

“It’s not that much money in the realm of things, for medical center that is so good to the community,” she said. [The government] bailed out the airline industry, the auto industry but the healthcare industry that saves lives cannot be helped?”

Questions and answers on Grady Health System and Grady Memorial Hospital

Q: How many patients does Grady treat a year?

A: Grady admits nearly 36,000 patients annually. Across the entire Grady Health System, there are upwards of 700,000 patients visits per year.

Q: How many people are treated in Grady’s emergency room each year?

A: There are approximately 152,000 emergency room visits per year.

Q: What is the percentage of paying vs. uninsured or underinsured patients?

A: 37% of Grady’s patients are uninsured or self-pay. The breakdown for the remaining patients is as follows: 15% commercial insurance, 26% Medicare, and 22% Medicaid.

Q: What is a Level 1 trauma center?

A: Grady is a nationally verified Level 1 trauma center. A Level 1 trauma center is a comprehensive regional resource that provides the highest level of trauma care to critically ill or injured patients. To qualify for this designation, Grady has 24-hour availability of trauma surgeons, immediate operating room capabilities, and prompt availability of care in a variety of specialties including orthopedic surgery, neurosurgery, pediatric and critical care.

Q: Is Grady one of the nation’s busiest Level 1 trauma centers?

A: With the closure of Atlanta Medical Center and Grady’s anticipated increase in trauma volumes, along with new trauma surgeons, Grady will become the busiest trauma program in the country and Atlanta’s only Level 1 adult trauma center.

Source: Grady Health System