Exclusive: Wellstar to shut East Point clinic, donate to neighbor clinic

Wellstar to donate $5 million to Southside Medical Center, expanding primary care offerings there as it closes Atlanta hospital and other clinics



Wellstar Health System, which set up an urgent care clinic to replace the hospital services it shuttered at Atlanta Medical Center in East Point in May, is now making plans to shutter that clinic as well, according to health executives.

To care for those patients, Wellstar instead is investing $5 million in a primary care clinic next door, Southside Medical Center, according to Southside’s CEO.

Wellstar has shut down two emergency rooms this year, replacing one of them, AMC-South, with an urgent care clinic, Wellstar East Point Health Center. That clinic will now face a transition.

Wellstar will work with the clinic next door, Southside Medical Center, to beef up its services and capacity, said officials with Wellstar and Southside. As that happens, said Southside Medical Center CEO Dr. David Williams, Wellstar will close within the coming months after patients are transferred to Southside.

Southside’s hours will expand but likely won’t be 24 hours, Williams said.

Wellstar would not confirm or deny that it planned to close East Point Health Center. In a written statement to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Wellstar pointed out that East Point Health Center is currently open. “We are collaborating with Southside to deliver care to patients in the South Fulton community, and actively working with them to help patients find an ongoing medical home for treatment of their chronic and primary care needs and to increase access points to care,” the statement said.

Both Williams and Wellstar said the majority of patients there don’t need an ER, and will benefit from more types of doctors and medical services at Southside than they could previously get.

“We will provide them with a medical home,” Williams said. “At the end of the day, I think these patients will receive better care.”

Both hospital closures, of AMC-South and AMC on Boulevard in ‘Atlanta, have drawn fierce criticism from local advocates. South Fulton Mayor Khalid Kamau said the closure of the East Point emergency room would leave his citizens without a critical resource. Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens has taken the Atlanta closure on as a major issue.

“Wellstar said they don’t want to be in the business of urban health care. That’s essentially what they said,” said Dickens.

The Atlanta mayor is also attempting to prevent Wellstar from profiting off the sale of AMC’s land.

According to Wellstar Medical Group senior vice president Sophia McIntyre, Wellstar will keep open three primary care offices: its Inman Krog office on DeKalb Avenue, its Princeton Lakes office in Camp Creek Medical Center, and its office in Morrow. It will close family medicine practices in East Point; on Amsterdam Avenue near Virginia-Highlands; and on Cascade Road. Several other medical practices associated with AMC will close as well.

Wellstar officials said they were mailing letters to all patients who had been patients at the closing clinics.

Wellstar and Southside officials told the AJC that the $5 million to Southside would be given in pieces through 2026. Part will go immediately to new construction, adding at least eight new exam rooms and paying for additional staff. The rest will come until 2026, in the hopes the clinic can eventually support itself without Wellstar’s help.

“WellStar understands the imperatives to partner with multiple entities to better serve the community,” said McIntyre. Wellstar told the AJC that approximately 19,600 patients are served by the clinics that are remaining open, while about 10,000 patients are served by the clinics that are closing.

Wellstar said the changes “will focus on expanding access to preventive, whole-person care and chronic disease support, rather than treating patients episodically when they are acutely sick or injured without guaranteed follow up.”

That was the problem with Wellstar Atlanta Medical Center-South in East Point and the main AMC facility in on Boulevard, Wellstar said: too many patients showed up to the ER as their first and only point of care, without going to a primary care doctor first. Seeing a primary care doctor allows patients to manage an illness or a condition and prevent it from becoming dire. Instead, patients who waited to go to the ER saw their problems get much worse than they needed to. In addition, such care is expensive for hospitals to provide, as it is not well reimbursed by insurance companies or often happens with patients who have no insurance at all.

Wellstar said AMC lost $107 million in the last year alone. Documents filed with state and federal agencies show AMC losing money each of the four previous years, from just over $1 million on up.