The Jolt: Grady could get cash infusion as Wellstar closure looms

News and analysis from the politics team at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

In the wake of last week’s surprise announcement that the Atlanta Medical Center will close its doors, state and local officials are now discussing a new package of aid to Grady Memorial Hospital, Atlanta’s only other high-level trauma facility.

Gov. Brian Kemp’s office said Friday that the Republican has met with health care executives, elected officials and community advocates to “collectively put together a long-term plan” after Wellstar announced without warning it would close AMC.

“We are encouraged by these discussions and will continue to do everything we can to ensure Georgians continue to have access to care,” said Andrew Isenhour, Kemp’s spokesman.

The discussions involve shifting state and federal funds to Grady rather than seeking to keep Atlanta Medical Center open, according to several officials with direct knowledge of the negotiations.

Grady Health System chief executive John Haupert has said the AMC closure is “incredibly tragic” and would increase the strain on the downtown Atlanta hospital, which could soon be the only other Level 1 trauma center capable of treating the most serious injuries.

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Just as concerning to Haupert and other health care executives is the closure of AMC’s emergency room, which primarily serves uninsured patients and has functioned as a relief valve for Grady’s frequently overcrowded emergency room.

Even as Kemp is talking about how to have Grady do more, DeKalb and Fulton County officials are expressing mounting concerns about its future viability.

One commissioner worried that Grady “may be on life support next year.” And DeKalb lawmakers are considering rushing a new payment to help the hospital in the wake of AMC’s expected closure, our AJC colleague Ben Brasch reported.

Democrats are eager to remind Kemp there’s a ready pot of cash available to help shore up the state’s fragile safety net system: An expansion of Medicaid that would cover an estimated 600,000 uninsured Georgians.

Stacey Abrams, who is challenging Kemp in November, has said any step short of expanding Medicaid is a “stopgap” that doesn’t address long-term systemic threats to the healthcare system.

She will join former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin this morning in a virtual press conference to accuse Kemp of playing “political games with Georgians’ health.

Kemp has opposed full Medicaid expansion as too costly and too inflexible for its recipients. Instead, he has promoted a “Georgia-based solution” that ties eligibility for some to a work or academic requirement.

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LISTEN UP. Catch up on the week in Georgia politics with our Friday edition of the Politically Georgia podcast.

We look at the 1.6 million new voters in Georgia, review the highlights from the campaign trail this week, and break out the brand new “Ask Mark” segment, when Atlanta Journal-Constitution voting expert Mark Niesse answers our burning questions about voting in 2022.

Listen and subscribe for free at Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or Stitcher.

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HAPPY WITH HERSCHEL. Politico was the first to report on a memo written by Florida’s U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, the chairman of the Republican fundraising arm for Senate races this cycle.

In a memo sent to donors and other supporters, Scott pushes back on recent criticism about his strategy for spending big early during the campaign season.

Credit: Jacquelyn Martin

Credit: Jacquelyn Martin

And he used the Georgia Senate race as a main example of why he believes his strategy is working. He noted that in 2020, U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock reached the general election largely unscathed by attacks.

From Scott’s memo:

He entered the runoff in great shape and never looked back. As a result, we lost Georgia and the Senate was lost.

I refuse to repeat a losing strategy. This spring and summer we made sure the people of Georgia learned that Warnock is a puppet of Joe Biden and his failed policies. And unlike 2020, Warnock's approval ratings have drastically dropped this year because we have advertised.

Herschel Walker will defeat him in two months and then Senator Walker will suddenly be deemed by official Washington as a great candidate, and the lobbyists will say, “I was secretly for him the whole time."

Scott's memo comes amid reports of friction between him and Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who has downplayed GOP chances of retaking the chamber because of “candidate quality."

- Memo from U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, per Politico

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POLL WATCH. A newly released InsiderAdvantage/Fox 5 poll is the latest to paint a rosy picture for Republicans in Georgia.

Gov. Brian Kemp leads Stacey Abrams 50% to 42%, an 8-point edge that’s one of the largest leads we’ve seen for the Republican and puts him at the all-important 50% threshold. It also saw the share of undecided voters increase since the last Fox 5 survey.

Credit: AJC

Credit: AJC

The Senate race was closer, with Republican Herschel Walker at 47% and U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock at 44%. That’s within the poll’s 4% margin of error.

Credit: AJC

Credit: AJC

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GEORGIA CONNECTION. A federal grand jury in Washington issued subpoenas this week looking for details about Save America PAC, the fundraising organization created by former President Donald Trump as he was promoting conspiracies about 2020 election fraud.

Along with being Trump’s main fundraising arm, Save America PAC also donated more than $4.2 million to a pair of organizations that unsuccessfully tried to defeat Gov. Brian Kemp, The New York Times reports. Trump sought revenge against Kemp and other GOP officials who refused his demand to overturn the elections.

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S.C. ABORTION DEBATE. A contentious debate over abortion split South Carolina Republicans this week, with the state’s three GOP female senators refusing to go along with a bill to ban all abortions, even in the case of rape or incest, the AP reports.

“Are we simply baby machines? Are you pregnant with a dead baby? Too bad. Raped at 11 by your grandfather and got pregnant? That’s just too bad,” GOP state Sen. Penry Gustafson said during the floor debate.

Credit: Jeffrey Collins

Credit: Jeffrey Collins

Senate Republicans, called into special session to toughen the state’s existing six-week abortion ban, eventually passed a scaled back bill, with two GOP women still opposed. It sets a timeline similar to Georgia’s “heartbeat” bill, banning abortions as early as five weeks gestation.

The Post and Courier reports an exception for rape and incest victims up to 12 weeks gestation was added, but with doctors required to collect a DNA sample from each fetus for law enforcement. The bill now goes to the House.

Are Georgia Republicans looking for a special session to toughen Georgia’s new law, too?

With Election Day racing forward, “I don’t think you could pay people to bring this up right now,” an in-the-know Republican told us this week.

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JERSEY MONEY. As Gov. Brian Kemp prepared to attend a Thursday fundraiser hosted by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and more than a dozen other Republican senators, word emerged that Stacey Abrams will be in New Jersey next week for a fundraiser of her own.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy plans to host a “high-dollar fundraiser” next Wednesday for Abrams with tickets ranging from $1,000 to $10,000, the New Jersey Globe reported.

Murphy recently appealed to major Georgia-based companies to relocate operations to his state by warning of “dangerous” anti-abortion policies. Abrams also visited New Jersey last year to tout Murphy’s legislation that established early in-person voting in the state, which Georgia already uses.

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ABRAMS IN GOD’S COUNTRY. Fans of the Jolt know we’re fans of Charlie Hayslett’s “Trouble in God’s Country” blog, where he dissects data that reveals the health, or lack thereof, of Georgia’s rural counties.

Hayslett recently did an hour-long interview with Stacey Abrams to talk about her policy vision for rural Georgia.

Hayslett writes: “Then last Friday I interviewed Abrams herself, and one thing became quickly apparent: the person crafting Stacey Abrams’s rural policies was Stacey Abrams herself.”

The full interview will be shared in several installments, but here’s the topline from Abrams:

For me, the goal in rural Georgia is not to become Atlanta, but it is to be able to be self-sustaining and successful within the construct of being small and not having your neighbors live right on top of you. It is the ability to have the amenities of rural with the modernity of time…

- Trouble in God's Country

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Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

TODAY IN WASHINGTON:

  • President Joe Biden travels to a new semiconductor plant in Ohio;
  • Pentagon officials participate in a 9/11 memorial observance.
  • The Senate is done for the week, and the House is out until Tuesday.

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ON THE TRAIL:

  • Senate candidate Herschel Walker’s United Georgia Bus Tour continues today with a rally in Norcross with former Ambassador Nikki Haley and state Attorney General Chris Carr. Haley will join Gov. Brian Kemp for a separate rally in the afternoon.
  • Stacey Abrams joins radio and TV personality Charlamagne Tha God, rapper 21 Savage, and attorney Francys Johnson tonight for an event focused on Black men.
  • Kemp and his family will join UGA College Republicans Saturday in Athens for a tailgate ahead of the Bulldogs’ home football opener.
  • U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock on Thursday participated in a telephone town hall meeting hosted by AARP-Georgia where he discussed the new law passed by Democrats that caps out-of-pocket drug costs for seniors.

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THE POSTMASTER’S OLD HOUSE. PBS’s “This Old House” will feature a house built by Atlanta civil rights activist Luther Judson Price and his wife, Minnie Wright Price, the Associated Press reports.

Born enslaved, Price eventually became the postmaster of South Atlanta and led voter registration drives for Black Atlantans. He was targeted by a white mob during the 1906 race riot in Atlanta, when he was rushed to the jail for his own protection from the violence.

Eight episodes about the renovation will stream on PBS.org later this month.

Credit: Michael Warren

Credit: Michael Warren

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AS ALWAYS, Jolt readers are some of our favorite tipsters. Send your best scoop, gossip and insider info to patricia.murphy@ajc.com, tia.mitchell@ajc.com and greg.bluestein@ajc.com.