Georgia hospital proposal could pave way for Morehouse expansion

The former Wellstar Atlanta Medical Center, Wednesday, August 30, 2023, in Atlanta. This is approximately one year after its impending closure was announced. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason.Getz@ajc.com

The former Wellstar Atlanta Medical Center, Wednesday, August 30, 2023, in Atlanta. This is approximately one year after its impending closure was announced. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

A sweeping plan to roll back hospital regulations on the state Senate floor on Thursday could also pave the way for Morehouse School of Medicine to open a new teaching hospital.

Republican state Sen. Bill Cowsert of Athens said it would “help fill the void” created by the collapse of Atlanta Medical Center, the intown hospital serving mostly low-income patients shuttered by Wellstar Health System in 2022.

It’s unclear where the hospital would be located, but Lt. Gov. Burt Jones said at a news conference Wednesday the measure would give Morehouse the “ability to take over the Atlanta Medical Center.”

“When that center closed, we lost one of only two trauma centers that we have here in the city,” he said. “Atlanta is too big of a city to have just one.”

One of the key backers is state Sen. Sonya Halpern, the Atlanta Democrat who leads a Senate study committee on innovation at historically Black colleges and universities.

She didn’t cast the change as a “takeover” of AMC, but said it would allow a teaching hospital to be exempted from restrictions that govern how closely a new hospital can be built near an existing facility. “So it opens the door for Morehouse School of Medicine to fill that void.”

Halpern said the legislation would allow Morehouse to partner with a hospital operator in the same way other academic institutions in the state partner to run teaching hospitals.

The language would be a significant addition to the House-passed certificate of need bill. That and any other differences would need to be hammered out in a conference committee, with just five days left in the legislative session.

City officials have tossed around various ideas for AMC’s 25-acre campus, at one point even considering transforming the empty building into an equity center or using part of the facility for a homeless shelter.

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens, who condemned Wellstar for closing AMC, placed a moratorium to prevent Wellstar or a buyer from redeveloping the property until there’s a replacement for health services.

Insider’s note: This item is ripped and expanded from the morning newsletter.