At 7 a.m. Friday, Atlanta Medical Center’s emergency room will close, ending a century of service to anyone who comes through the door.
The full hospital is scheduled to keep operating until Nov. 1, two weeks later. But it is in the midst of gradually winding down. And as perhaps the biggest step: Any patient who shows up after 7 a.m. on Friday will instead be met with a closed door, and, hospital officials say, an ambulance waiting to take them somewhere else.
Dr. Brett Cannon, who oversees emergency medicine at all of Wellstar Health System’s hospitals, said he wanted to respond because he’d heard the community blowback over not just closing the hospital but closing the ER two weeks earlier. It is important that moving fragile hospital patients not be handled in a rush, he said.
“Attempting to transfer a full hospital or a hospital that had not gone through some deceleration” would be a big problem, he said. “We would be concerned about the care that patients would receive in trying to transfer so many at once.”
On Monday, AMC asked ambulances to start seeking other hospitals instead -- permanently marking itself on the metro directory as being on “diversion” for regular ambulance traffic.
Wellstar said in statements to the AJC that the number of patients AMC admitted to a bed has steadily decreased since the closing plans were announced. From a hospital that regularly had just under 200 patients admitted, it now has fewer than 100. Wellstar expects fewer than 50 by this weekend and by Nov. 1, any patients remaining will either be discharged or transferred to other facilities.
Poorer, uninsured patients
AMC’s emergency room has long been crucial for that hospital’s users. According to Wellstar, 70% of inpatients admitted to the hospital came through the ER, as opposed to being admitted by their personal doctor or a specialist. That is significant because many of those patients aren’t getting preliminary care from their own doctors, but are instead finding ailments worsen and become emergencies needing ER attention.
That’s partly because many of AMC’s patients are less affluent than most of the patients at other hospitals, with many lacking insurance, according to documents filed with the state and federal governments by Wellstar and other health systems. Connecting those patients to care is now a challenge.
Until Friday, patients who show up at AMC can still get treated. And though ambulances are asked to divert away from AMC, if one shows up anyway, AMC’s doctors and nurses will take care of that patient, said Wellstar Health System Chief Nurse Executive Jill Case-Wirth.
“After Friday, we would no longer be accepting patients at that site,” she said.
“We have put a plan in place to have a standby transport vehicle there in the event that we need to transport a patient to another site to get the care that they need,” she said. “Our whole goal is that we’ve done enough public awareness and planning so that patients and EMS know not to come to that emergency room after 7 a.m. on the 14th.”
From nurses and doctors to the mayor, people reported being blindsided by the announcement of closure. Some doctors who work with AMC say they’ve been given no help transferring their patients to other providers.
Wellstar’s public relations officials say they are in the process of mailing out advisory postcards to every household within a five-mile radius: More than 200,000 of them, to arrive on Friday or just before. In addition, the hospital system has prepared bundles with flyers, posters and postcards for each of 115 community organizations this week.
Wellstar also said it is working to connect patients in the area with Mercy Care, the charity clinic in downtown Atlanta, by informing them how to find the clinic and walk in. Mercy Care officials confirmed Tuesday that they have been talking with Wellstar. They said they expect to meet this week with Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens about the issue.
As for serious ER care and trauma, Wellstar’s Case-Wirth cited Grady Memorial Hospital, the only other Level I trauma center in metro Atlanta. Grady has begun adding beds to accommodate the 200 staffed beds previously managed by AMC. A Grady spokeswoman said 41 new beds should be available at Grady by the end of this week.
“Grady is less than two miles away as a level one trauma center,” said Case-Wirth. “And there are five other hospitals within, I believe, a seven-mile radius, that emergency care can be delivered. They’re open and we believe that they’ve got capacity for them.”
Aug. 31: Wellstar announces AMC closure
Oct. 4: AMC ER goes on “permanent diversion” to ambulances
Nov. 1: AMC to close
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