Forks placed in ground mark low-key anniversary of AMC hospital closure

About a dozen demonstrators placed forks in the ground to represent hundreds of hospital beds lost due to Wellstar’s decision
Protesters plant 460 forks in the ground outside of the closed Atlanta Medical Center on this, the anniversary of it's closing. November 1, 2023 (Jamie Spaar for the Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Credit: Jamie Spaar

Credit: Jamie Spaar

Protesters plant 460 forks in the ground outside of the closed Atlanta Medical Center on this, the anniversary of it's closing. November 1, 2023 (Jamie Spaar for the Atlanta Journal Constitution)

One year after Wellstar Health System closed down the century-old Atlanta Medical Center, a small group of people marked the moment by placing 460 plastic forks in the ground — one fork for every hospital bed lost.

On a chilly Wednesday evening, about a dozen demonstrators came together in what was a low-key gathering. The New Georgia Project, organizer of the gathering called the event a “Fork Wellstar Action.” The forks were placed into the ground in a field adjacent to the hospital. The New Georgia Project is a voter registration and civic engagement organization founded by Stacey Abrams.

“We want to hold corporations accountable,” Kierra Stanford, lead organizer of the New Georgia Project’s My Community, My Hospital campaign, said. “We knew that Wellstar definitely had the funds to keep AMC open or at least keep some type of health care resource still open.”

Other community activists have made the same criticism against Wellstar, since it has sizeable cash reserves and also recently chose to invest $800 million in Augusta-area hospitals. But Wellstar says the AMC facility on its own lost too much money.

Protesters plant 460 forks in the ground outside of the closed Atlanta Medical Center on this, the anniversary of it's closing. November 1, 2023 (Jamie Spaar for the Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Credit: Jamie Spaar

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Credit: Jamie Spaar

Wellstar Health System’s decision to close Atlanta Medical Center, one of the city’s largest providers of care for the poor, was met with shock. Community members, politicians and even AMC’s workers were all taken aback when The Atlanta Journal-Constitution broke the news last year on Aug. 31 that over the coming nine weeks the 460-bed hospital would be winding down operations.

The hospital was licensed to run 466 beds but in reality only operated about 200, according to Wellstar.

Wellstar said it tried everything but couldn’t afford to keep it open. Wellstar is now investing in new facilities in the Augusta area.

AMC’s downtown location, formerly known as Georgia Baptist Hospital, was the second Wellstar closed in 2022. Atlanta Medical Center South, located in East Point, was reduced from a hospital and emergency room to an out-patient clinic earlier in 2022.

“It’s been a year. They promised us solutions and we’ve gotten none in the past year,” Stanford said. “Instead we got news of them merging with Augusta [University Medical Center] and making other moves.”

The area where AMC was located has been home to a hospital for a century, initially called Georgia Baptist Hospital before it was acquired by a private company in 1997 and renamed, and then in 2016 sold to Wellstar Health System.

Fulton County’s website lists the total assessed tax value for the former AMC properties at about $118.86 million. However, Wellstar is a nonprofit hospital system, meaning that it pays no taxes and is expected to provide care for the well-being of the community.

Protesters plant 460 forks in the ground outside of the closed Atlanta Medical Center on this, the anniversary of it's closing. November 1, 2023 (Jamie Spaar for the Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Credit: Jamie Spaar

icon to expand image

Credit: Jamie Spaar

“We are committed to a thoughtful process to determine the best use for the future of these sites,” Wellstar said in an emailed statement. “We continue to talk with members of the community and evaluate potential solutions. ...We are hopeful for a solution that benefits the community.”

Neither Wellstar nor the city of Atlanta have announced plans for the AMC property yet, which sits empty in the gentrifying Old Fourth Ward area of Atlanta. Organizers of the gathering said they want to engage marginalized groups. AMC disproportionately served Black patients.

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens has confirmed his intent to extend the city’s redevelopment ban on the former Atlanta Medical Center site for another six months.

Staff writer Ariel Hart contributed to this article

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