Atlanta hospital closes amid poverty and politics

Atlanta hospital closes amid poverty and politics

(Bloomberg) — The Atlanta Medical Center sits on a vast tract of urban land just a mile south of Ponce de Leon Boulevard — the road that segregationists a century ago designated as the dividing line between Black and White Atlanta .

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That distinction was felt Thursday when a group of Georgia faith leaders held a news conference outside the hospital, calling on Gov. Brian Kemp to meet with them and find a way to stop the planned closing of the 120-year-old medical center. , along with others like it in the state.

“Let’s be honest, this is about demeaning Black and Brown people and poor people,” said the Reverend Shanan Jones, president of Concerned Black Clergy of Atlanta. “Their lives are expendable. Their lives don’t matter.”

Wellstar Health System, which operates 10 hospitals and dozens of other health care facilities across Georgia, announced earlier this month that it will close its Atlanta Medical Center on Nov. 1, leaving the city with 460 fewer hospital beds and just one hospital which can handle the most serious medical emergencies. Since 2018, Georgia has lost at least six hospitals, mostly in rural areas. The state of about 10 million people now has just four medical facilities capable of handling the worst trauma.

The issue looms large for Kemp, who faces a tough re-election campaign this fall. His Democratic opponent, Stacey Abrams, last week blasted the incumbent governor for refusing to expand Medicaid, a move she says has helped stabilize health care systems in other states, and a move Abrams has promised to take if is elected in November.

At his own news conference at the state Capitol Thursday, Kemp announced $130 million in state dollars to increase the capacity of Grady Hospital — the region’s other Level One trauma center that is also a safety net hospital for the poor — by more than 200 beds. The funds come from the American Rescue Plan Act, the federal Covid-19 relief money that Kemp had earlier opposed. Kemp said Grady will also receive an additional $130 million due to a change in the funding formula for insurance plans enacted in July, as well as the addition of 24 patient rooms. “These are not band-aid solutions,” Kemp said.

The governor’s announcement “is not enough,” said the Rev. Lee May, who leads the DeKalb Pastor Christian Alliance. “As for the bandages, I guess they did a good job. But it’s a temporary solution.”

Stroke, Gunshots

Wellstar has run the hospital since 2016, and its 24-hour emergency department is staffed to handle comprehensive treatment for heart attacks, strokes, gunshot victims and other serious conditions. In recent days, the sole survivor of an Aug. 22 triple shooting in Midtown Atlanta was cared for at the facility. When the closing was announced two weeks ago, Wellstar said the Atlanta Medical Center had been operating “for several years” at “significant losses.” Last year, the facility lost more than $100 million. Wellstar declined further comment when contacted by Bloomberg.

“This is not just about Wellstar and Atlanta,” said Bishop Reginald T. Jackson, who presides over more than 500 African Methodist Episcopal churches in Georgia. “This issue is a statewide problem.”

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens wrote a letter Sept. 9 to Wellstar CEO Candice Saunders, saying the closing “will negatively impact low-income populations in the metro Atlanta community.” Dickens said the company’s earlier closing of a medical center in south Atlanta hurt the surrounding population.

If Wellstar goes ahead with the planned closing of Atlanta Medical in November, “this will be one of the biggest crime scenes in Georgia history,” said Jones, of Concerned Black Clergy of Atlanta. He spoke just a few hundred yards from where helicopters land to take patients to the hospital’s emergency room.

‘My house’

An employee at the medical centre, Johnnie Jones, said she has worked for 11 years as a care provider in general surgery and that the hospital provided good treatment to her dying mother and was a lifesaver for a community in dire need.

“Look across the street, there are homeless people with flies flying around,” he said. “Look down on the street, homeless women are down there with no clothes. This is not just the closing of this hospital. This is my house.”

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