Georgia agency proposes rule to curb surprise hospital closures

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

In the wake of Atlanta Medical Center’s abrupt closure last year, the state of Georgia is proposing to demand more advance notice from hospital leaders any time they decide to close down a hospital or hospital services.

Wellstar Health System shut down two hospitals last year that each served predominantly needy populations: AMC South in East Point and AMC in downtown Atlanta. Each time, Wellstar gave less than 60 days’ notice before shutting down the emergency rooms. The new rule would require at least 180 days’ notice, up from the current 30.

Several elected leaders said they were shocked at Wellstar’s announcement last year that it would close AMC. The Metro Atlanta Chamber business group’s president, Katie Kirkpatrick, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “I’ll be very clear, we were not given a heads up.”

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens supports the new rule, his spokesman said.

“When a hospital closes or substantially changes operations, it has an enormous impact on the community and surrounding region,” said the spokesman, Michael Smith. “The Mayor is encouraged by this first step to bring greater accountability to hospital operators.”

Within the overall closure announcements, Wellstar also was slow to come forward with details such as dates that individual services within the hospital would close. In some cases Wellstar has not announced details to the public at all.

When Wellstar shut down AMC-South’s hospital services in East Point, it announced that it would shift the hospital’s work to being a clinic, which Wellstar said was what the patients there really needed anyway. However, Wellstar did not announce that it would soon reduce that clinic’s hours to days only.

In addition, Wellstar intends to shut down the East Point clinic altogether, but Wellstar didn’t announce that either. The expected closure was revealed independently in reporting by the AJC.

Wellstar will shift instead to supporting a separate clinic next door. That support of Wellstar is expected to eventually cease.

The new Department of Community Health rule would require 180 days’ advance written notice for closures, or for other changes including mergers or a “material change regarding the hospital’s delivery of services to the public.”

The state Board of Community Health will vote on the proposed changes on March 9.