Opinion: Hospital closing has devastating effects on struggling health care system

Ripple effects of pending closure of Atlanta Medical Center

Many of us have heard the news about the pending closure of Atlanta Medical Center, a Level 1 trauma center in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward. The collapse of this healthcare center will have devastating, far-reaching effects in Atlanta and the surrounding metro area. To put things into perspective, most cities with a population the size of Atlanta have at least 3 Level 1 trauma centers. Now that Atlanta Medical Center will be closing, Grady Hospital will be the only Level 1 adult trauma center remaining in the city, and it already provides an enormous amount of emergency care.

We all have a stake in addressing the healthcare needs of our communities. Level 1 trauma centers have regional impacts and are equipped to serve various patient needs. They can provide care for every aspect of injury, from prevention to rehabilitation, and offer 24-hour coverage by general surgeons and access to other specialty areas that are not available in all hospitals. If you need care from a facility where the teams are highly experienced and accustomed to dealing with mass casualty events, Grady Hospital would be your only option if Atlanta Medical Center closes.

After then, the next closest Level 1 trauma centers are in Macon, Rome, Chattanooga and Birmingham. Atlanta Medical Center’s pending closure will affect those with and without health insurance alike. For those living without health insurance, the ER often acts as a catch-all for all forms of injury since they may not be able to afford routine healthcare checkups.

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

Lack of access to affordable care has made Level 1 trauma centers a refuge for ailments that a primary care provider can often address. ER overcrowding has left hospitals such as Atlanta Medical Center unable to generate enough sustainable income to maintain viable operations. This is catastrophic for those in the community who need access the most.

Where will these patients go? Who will see them? Who will address their healthcare needs?

At Good Samaritan Health Centers of Gwinnett, we believe that all people should have access to affordable care. No one should go into medical debt because they need to have a simple procedure done. Level 1 trauma centers are best utilized for doing what they were meant to do: address life-threatening emergencies.

Since 2005, Good Sam of Gwinnett has provided 265,300 visits for significant health and dental care services to the poor and uninsured as a safety-net clinic. Our clinics offer demand relief to the ER so they can focus on the patients who are most-sick and in need of care. We have designed a pay structure for our patients that is reasonable, competitive and, most importantly, affordable with quality care from physicians and advanced practice providers.

We hope to be able to assist these communities that are most impacted by hospital closures and the reduction of health care access. For more information, please visit us at www.goodsamgwinnett.org.

Shameka Allen is associate director of Good Samaritan Health Centers of Gwinnett, which works to provide affordable primary care and dental care.