Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens has sent a follow-up letter to Wellstar CEO Candice Saunders regarding the health system’s surprise announcement that it intends to close Atlanta Medical Center in November.
The imminent closure of the Old Fourth Ward hospital, a fixture in the city for more than a century, is expected to create strain on the city’s already overtaxed healthcare system.
“As Mayor of Atlanta, I will leave no stone unturned as I explore every option to safeguard access to vital healthcare services for members of our community,” Dickens wrote. “But let me be clear: Wellstar still has a responsibility to this community as well. Wellstar needs to provide immediate answers to the community about what you are doing to mitigate the harm to the community of this closure.”
Dickens highlighted several priority areas — including care transition for patients at Atlanta Medical Center, emergency planning, and the future use of the 25-acre site —and noted that he and his team are deeply engaged with other governments and stakeholders to address the situation.
“We will continue to engage these partners to quickly identify potential resources and services to meet the needs of our community and mitigate any detrimental impacts from your decision to close Atlanta Medical Center.”
The Fulton County Board of Commissioners announced this week that it would expedite an already approved one-time payment of $11 million to Grady Health System to offset the financial pressure anticipated by AMC’s closure.
Commission Chairman Robb Pitts said in a statement that the decision to close AMC was “especially shocking” after a series of meetings with WellStar over the course of several months about the closure of South Fulton Hospital. He said there was no legal recourse to prevent Wellstar from closing the facilities.
“At this time, there is an immediate need for a plan to absorb the 200 current staffed beds at Atlanta Medical,” Pitts said. “We have been in constant communication with leaders at Grady Health System, which anticipates an influx of additional patients, and is already in contact with the care team at Atlanta Medical to support patients with ongoing care needs.”
Pitts said he Grady Hospitals emergency room will experience “immediate impact after the AMC closure as will Emory Midtown Medical Center and Piedmont Atlanta Hospital.”
“We are highly confident that the trauma team at Grady will be able to continue to meet the Level I trauma needs of our community along with the Level II trauma centers in the region,” Pitts said.
Commissioner Khadijah Abdur-Rahman said in a statement that the Fulton Board of Commissioners’ decision to lower the millage rate could not have come at a worse time.
“Grady Hospital normally depends on as much as $50 to $80 million each year from the County Commission to keep its doors open,” Abdur-Rahman said. “In fact, the Commission had just made an emergency allocation of $11 million before taking the 2023 budget discussion. This is why I voted not to lower the millage rate.”
Abdur-Rahman had recommended a 9-mill rate, but the board ultimately voted on 8.87, “which amounts to us losing approximately more than $30 million in needed revenue next year alone.”
Abdur-Rahman said the county could not fall back on the $206 million from the American Rescue Plan Act since most of those funds have already been allocated for pandemic-related expenses.