Atlanta Medical Center’s final goodbye

Grady Memorial Hospital issues statement reassuring former AMC patients and the city, saying “Grady isn’t going anywhere”

Credit: Christina Matacotta

Credit: Christina Matacotta

In the final hours of operation Monday for downtown’s Atlanta Medical Center, preparations were made to finalize the hospital’s closure at midnight and activity around the hospital seemed to be almost at a standstill.

Tuesday will be the first day in over 100 years that patients have not been able to come to the location for help and treatment.

In the early 1900s, an infirmary that existed further downtown moved to Boulevard and what was then East Avenue, and became Georgia Baptist Hospital. The Georgia Baptist Convention, which oversaw the original hospital, eventually sold it in 1997 to a for-profit company, Tenet Healthcare. In 2015, Tenet sold AMC as part of a package of five hospitals to Wellstar Health System.

Credit: Christina Matacotta

Credit: Christina Matacotta

On Monday afternoon, only the occasional worker walked by the front doors and no patients were seen coming or going. Hospital workers, apart from a food delivery driver, were the only people in evidence.

Missy Sullivan and Wendy Casey were on their way to walk a lap around AMC’s campus when they stopped and spoke to a reporter for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. They said it’s been strange for them to not hear any bedside alarms or see patients inside the hospital.

“There’s no one,” said Casey. “It’s a skeleton crew.”

The two have worked together at AMC as nurses for 29 years. They are not just colleagues; they are best friends. They wore matching teeshirts for the final day, reading “RIP AMC.” Casey and Sullivan will be two of the last nurses walking AMC’s halls.

Casey and Sullivan worked in the hospital’s intensive care unit and described the hospital as a “big family.” “Many of our patients were chronically ill and they would come to the hospital frequently, and they would know us by name,” Casey said.

Many of AMC’s patients are less affluent than patients at other hospitals, with many lacking insurance, according to documents filed with the state and federal governments by Wellstar. That was the problem with AMC, according to Wellstar.

Citing financial losses it said it could no longer sustain, on Aug. 31 Cobb County-based Wellstar announced plans to close AMC.

When the emergency room was closed on Oct. 14, the city lost one of only two “Level 1 trauma center” emergency rooms, which are prepared to handle the most serious injuries. Grady Memorial Hospital is now the only remaining emergency room that can handle those cases.

After midnight Monday, Grady administrators issued a statement reassuring the city that it would continue to provide services. “Today, Grady Hospital has become Atlanta’s only level 1 trauma center. It’s not lost on us that some people may be concerned about how this may impact not only their health but the health of their loved ones. We want the city of Atlanta to know – Grady isn’t going anywhere. Our medical team and staff will continue to show up every day, just like we always have.”

Credit: Christina Matacotta for the AJC

Credit: Christina Matacotta for the AJC

According to the Grady administration’s statement Monday night, “We have already seen an influx of patients in our emergency department and an increase in our trauma volumes. However, we have taken several steps to help absorb the increased volume. We have hired former Atlanta Medical Center trauma surgeons and primary care physicians to help meet the growing need at our trauma center and in our neighborhood health centers. Additional practitioners have been added to Grady’s Walk-In Center and our ER waiting room. We have added 41 new inpatient beds, and more are forthcoming.”

Nurses Casey and Sullivan said they received offers to work at other Wellstar locations, but ultimately chose to relocate to Grady Memorial Hospital. “We serve a certain patient population here and that’s the patient population that we prefer. We really like helping people being in an inner-city hospital,” said Sullivan.

Casey recalled her times as a student at Georgia Baptist School of nursing, where she started as a student in 1986. This year marked her 33rd year working at AMC. Sullivan said that she had planned on retiring from AMC.

“It was a great place to work,” Casey said.

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Timeline: Atlanta Medical Center closes

  • April 6, 2022

    Wellstar Health System announces plans to close the emergency department and hospital at Atlanta Medical Center South in East Point into an outpatient clinic.

  • Aug. 31

    Wellstar Health System confirms it will close Atlanta Medical Center in downtown Atlanta on Nov. 1. Local officials say they were not warned of the plans.

  • Sept. 8

    To prepare nearby Grady Memorial Hospital for the patient influx, Fulton County Commission approves $11 million in Federal Emergency Management Agency reimbursement dollars.

  • Sept. 15

    Gov. Brian Kemp announces a $130 million cash infusion to Grady Health System to add 185 hospital beds.

  • Sept. 26

    Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens orders the City Planning Department to refuse any applications for rezoning or building on AMC’s downtown land.

  • Oct. 14

    Atlanta Medical Center’s emergency room closes.

  • Oct. 17

    Atlanta City Council extends AMC site redevelopment moratorium until April 2023.

  • Oct. 24

    Wellstar announces a $5 million investment in a primary care clinic next door to Atlanta Medical Center South