One Year After Atlanta Medical Center Closed, Hospital Site Remains in Limbo

By Jess Mador
This week marks one year since Wellstar Health System closed Atlanta Medical Center in the Old Fourth Ward for good. And, as the hulking hospital complex has sat vacant under a redevelopment moratorium in place since last fall, health advocates and metro Atlanta officials continue to push for a new health facility to replace AMC.
The hospital was one of two Level 1 trauma centers in Atlanta, along with Grady Memorial Hospital — the closest medical center to the AMC site.
AMC’s shutdown is fueling increased patient volumes at Grady’s ER and other Atlanta hospitals; with nearby AMC physicians’ and other outpatient offices also closed, former AMC non-emergency patients have also dispersed to other practices.
“Grady does amazing work, but there are only so many doctors and so many patient rooms and so many resources that they have, and they need support in providing care for this community as well,” said Laura Colbert, executive director of the health policy organization Georgians for a Healthy Future.
To support Grady, Gov. Brian Kemp last year allocated $130 million in federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act.
Grady was already in the process of expanding with 180 additional beds when Wellstar announced it was closing AMC.
And since AMC shut down, Grady has opened a new specialty clinic and is reconfiguring its main hospital space.
Grady Health System President and CEO John Haupert said the expansion was critical — he anticipated a big influx of new patients after AMC closed.
Grady’s ER previously saw a dramatic spike in patients after Wellstar closed its East Point ER last April.
“When the South AMC Medical Center closed, we saw overnight a 50-visit increase in our emergency department,” he said.
Last year, Wellstar CEO Candice Saunders said the nonprofit health company faced steep declines in revenue at Atlanta Medical Center amid increasing costs, the pandemic exacerbated a situation she said.
“For several years, Wellstar has continued to invest in and operate AMC with significant losses to provide more time to partner on a creative, long-term, sustainable solution for the hospital’s future,” said Saunders, citing operating losses of more than $100 million in 2022.
“After an exhaustive search for a solution that would support the healthcare needs of the community, we are disappointed that a sustainable solution at AMC has not emerged.”
A coalition of community officials and Democratic lawmakers, including Atlanta State Sen. Nan Orrock, State Rep. Kim Schofield, and Fulton County Commission Chairman Robb Pitts, have repeatedly dismissed Wellstar’s rationale for the closure.
They filed two federal complaints — one with the United States Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights, the other with the Internal Revenue Service.
The complaints allege Wellstar has discriminated on the basis of race in closing AMC and East Point’s AMC-South.
Both medical centers operated in majority Black communities.
“Wellstar needs to come to the table with the patient community, with the doctors, the other healthcare providers and the public officials and be prepared to discuss and tangibly contribute to repairing the damage that their action has caused,” Orrock said.
Wellstar Health System has denied the allegations, with the federal complaints still pending.
Meanwhile, the Atlanta City Council is expected to consider a proposal to further extend the redevelopment moratorium in an upcoming scheduled meeting.
Also, this week in East Point, Morehouse School of Medicine opened a new outpatient clinic to help expand options for medical care to residents of south Fulton County.
The clinic, located in the Buggy Works complex, is not far from the site of AMC South Hospital, which now contains an urgent care facility.
The new Morehouse Healthcare clinic is a partnership with the Charlotte-based nonprofit Atrium Health and Fulton County, after county commissioners approved the project to move forward earlier this year.
The clinic offers critically needed health care in East Point, said Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice, president and CEO of Morehouse School of Medicine.
Its offerings are informed by a survey MSM recently completed in conjunction with Fulton County to assess the impact of the Wellstar Medical Center closure and identify the community’s ongoing health needs.
“The residents that we could identify, many of them were using the emergency room as their first line of care even though they may not have an emergency.… There was no place for them to come in their community for the management of their diabetes, or hypertension, or a chronic disease that resulted in ongoing challenges,” Dr. Montgomery Rice said.
“This site is going to provide urgent and ongoing care, but also because of our community health workers, we’re going to have them out there making referrals and hoping to prevent people from having to have the emergent care.”
An MSM-certified team of community health workers will serve as health advisors, assisting patients with insurance, transportation, childcare, and other needs.
The clinic will also function as a training site for participants in Morehouse School of Medicine’s Community Health Worker certification program.
Officials said Monday that a dozen workers are set to train in the clinic’s first year.
“We’re not just going to be talking about treating chronic diseases, but preventive health needs for families. We initially will be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., but as we continue to engage the community through our community health workers, we will look by January to have extended hours because we want them to have a medical home,” Dr. Montgomery Rice said.
Fulton County and East Point officials also continue to explore options for establishing another full-service hospital with 24-hour emergency care services to replace Wellstar’s AMC-South hospital.