Photo by Donnell Suggs

The now famous tagline reads, “Atlanta can’t live without Grady.” With Wellstar Health System planning to close Atlanta Medical Center (AMC) in less than two months, the question is whether or not Grady Health System can continue to serve Atlanta without some help from the feds?

Help may be on the way in the form of a one-time nearly $200 million aid package. The funds would be a combination of federal coronavirus relief package funding and private donations.

Gov. Brian Kemp recently met with Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens and Fulton County Commissioner Robb Pitts to discuss the funds. 

A formal announcement is expected this week.

The $200 million would be in addition to a one-time payment of $11 million for Grady expedited last week by the Fulton County Board of Commissioners.

AMC has 460 beds and serves a community that is severely under-insured, similar to the people that call Grady their primary healthcare destination. The funds can be used to make additions to Grady Hospital which has nearly 1,000 beds but will need more when AMC’s are no longer available. 

Former Grady Hospital and current AMC employee Johnnie Jones told Atlanta Intown that she has been offered the opportunity to work at a Wellstar Health Systems hospital in Cobb County when AMC closes. “We have worked our butts off in this Level 1 trauma center,” she said Tuesday night during a rally outside of the hospital. “We work with some great surgeons and really serve the community.” 

Jones worked at Grady for 10 years before moving over to AMC 11 years ago. She knows the staff at Grady will have their hands full as the only Level 1 trauma center in the city. “It’s horrible. They never once said they were going to shut down.” 

Hospitals closing in Black neighborhoods like Old Fourth Ward are quite common, according to Boston University Professor of Health Law, Policy and Management Alan Sager. “Hospitals in Black neighborhoods are much likelier to close,” said Sager. There are multiple reasons including but not limited to the fact that they may not have enough doctors, or in the case of Atlanta Medical Center, are no longer teaching hospitals. Atlanta Medical Center was once Georgia Baptist Hospital, a teaching hospital for hundreds of doctors and nurses.

“Major teaching hospitals are likely to survive because they have lots of doctors and the reputation draws private insured higher income patients from outside of the city, Sager said.

While AMC is located in a historic Black neighborhood, that’s changing too. The Old Fourth Ward was once one of Atlanta’s prominent Black enclaves, but the average rent for a 1-bedroom apartment there is now $2,139. That’s a 16% increase year-to-year, according to Zumper, a national apartment rental website. The demographics have steered towards white, insured residents.

Donnell Suggs is an Atlanta-based journalist.