Impending Hospital Closure Rattles Atlanta Health Care Landscape and Political Races

ATLANTA — Like many neighborhoods in cities throughout the nation, Atlanta’s Outdated Fourth Ward is altering.

Rental buildings and fashionable minimalist properties punctuate metropolis blocks of low-income housing. Many longtime residents of the historic neighborhood the place Martin Luther King Jr. was born have been priced out and pushed to different components of city.

Atlanta Medical Middle, a 460-bed Stage 1 trauma heart, would be the subsequent fixture to alter.

Regardless of banners proclaiming the hospital’s dedication to the world — “120 Years Caring For Atlanta,” one reads — its nonprofit proprietor, Wellstar Well being System, lately introduced plans to shut the hospital’s doorways on Nov. 1.

Georgia has seen a number of rural hospitals shutter prior to now decade, however this yr Atlanta has joined different city facilities with facility closures, together with a earlier downsizing at a facility within the close by metropolis of East Level.

The Wellstar announcement has stoked the political debate over Medicaid enlargement forward of the Nov. 8 midterm elections. Like 11 different states, Georgia has not expanded eligibility guidelines for its Medicaid program underneath the Reasonably priced Care Act, and hospital officers throughout the state say inaction has harm their backside strains as a result of they nonetheless deal with excessive numbers of uninsured sufferers, lots of whom can’t pay for remedy.

The Wellstar announcement shocked metropolis officers, together with the mayor, Andre Dickens, in addition to different members of the neighborhood.

On a current weekday morning, Teresa Smith, 60, who lives within the neighborhood, stated she incessantly receives care there for a persistent digestive difficulty. “This hospital can be missed by the entire neighborhood,” she stated.

Liliana Bakhtiari, the Atlanta Metropolis Council member whose district contains the hospital, was sharp in her evaluation. “There can be lack of life and significant accidents that won’t be taken care of, and I want that mattered extra to Wellstar,” she stated.

Wellstar declined KHN’s request for an interview concerning the closure.

Nancy Kane, an adjunct professor at Harvard’s T.H. Chan College of Public Well being, sees connections between the Atlanta state of affairs and hospital closures in different main cities.

Many had been acquired by massive well being care corporations as a part of package deal offers, and served largely low-income, minority populations.

“For those who purchase a hospital, it is best to have an obligation to repair it up,” stated Kane. “Wellstar has the funds to speculate on this hospital. It’s a alternative.”

Some neighborhood members wonder if the hospital closure will result in a dear actual property improvement on the roughly 20 acres Wellstar owns within the neighborhood.

Randy Pimsler, an architect whose agency has designed initiatives within the space, stated “it may change into a clean slate, both for redevelopment or for brand spanking new improvement.”

Politicians have been fast to show the closing right into a marketing campaign difficulty. And on the heart of the talk is Gov. Brian Kemp’s well being care coverage.

The Kemp group is working to place collectively a long-term plan for strengthening well being care within the space after the closure, stated Andrew Isenhour, a Kemp spokesperson. Kemp, a Republican who’s working for a second time period in November, is unlikely to try to keep the facility open.

However officers on the nonprofit Grady Well being System stated this week that they’ve met with Kemp’s workplace, Dickens, and officers from Fulton and DeKalb counties a few monetary infusion of state funding that may help capital wants at Grady Memorial Hospital, a Stage 1 trauma heart a few mile from Atlanta Medical Middle.

Grady is anticipating as many as 2,500 further emergency room visits a month after Atlanta Medical Middle shuts its doorways.

“We are able to take in all of the trauma,” stated John Haupert, CEO of Grady Well being System. Nonetheless, the added ER crunch can be a problem with extra sufferers arriving, stated Ryan Loke, chief well being coverage officer for Grady.

State funding would speed up Grady’s present plans to transform workplaces into inpatient care areas, which might add greater than 180 grownup beds as quickly as a yr from now. The hospital is also including 40 to 45 beds over the following six weeks, and is planning to put in a 24-bed discipline hospital to assist deal with the affected person move from the closed hospital.

The closing places Medicaid enlargement “entrance and heart” within the political dialog, Haupert stated. Kemp has proposed a restricted plan that may provide entry to the state-federal insurance coverage program to individuals who can fulfill a piece requirement or related obligation.

His challenger, Democrat Stacey Abrams, has lengthy made increasing Medicaid a prime marketing campaign difficulty.

“That is now not a shock,” Abrams stated. “It’s anticipated to occur as a result of the Kemp administration refuses to take motion.”

U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, which is lower than a mile from the hospital, has additionally decried the closure and cited the pressure on well being care amenities brought on by Georgia’s refusal to develop Medicaid. Wellstar officers have stated that Medicaid enlargement alone wouldn’t have stored the Atlanta facility open.

Earlier this yr, Wellstar stopped offering emergency room and inpatient providers at its hospital in East Level, simply southwest of Atlanta. On the time, it stated these sufferers might be seen at Atlanta Medical Middle, about 8 miles away. Haupert estimated it might price a whole lot of hundreds of thousands of {dollars} to modernize the soon-to-close Atlanta hospital, which is what made a rescue tough.

The closures just some months aside may assist Abrams’ arguments for Medicaid enlargement resonate with voters, stated Andra Gillespie, an affiliate professor of political science at Emory College. “A difficulty that was most likely tailor-made extra in the direction of rural Georgia now swiftly turns into an Atlanta-area difficulty,” she stated.

Gillespie cautioned that different points, akin to inflation, crime, and abortion, are prone to be extra motivating to Georgia voters.

Wellstar, primarily based in suburban Marietta, acquired AMC and the East Level hospital from Tenet Healthcare during an acquisition push in 2016, a part of a $575 million deal that included three different hospitals within the metro area.

Todd Greene, previously a member of Wellstar’s neighborhood board for AMC, stated the system put extra sources into its suburban amenities.

“Wellstar’s suburban hospital-oriented administration method sadly has resulted in massive parts of Atlanta’s black and brown communities not accessing proximate and significant well being care providers,” he stated in a written assertion.

In Wellstar’s announcement of the closure, it stated it had invested greater than $350 million in capital enhancements on the facility since 2016 and sustained “$107 million in losses in simply the final 12 months, amid reducing income and growing prices for workers and provides resulting from hovering inflation.”

The choice to shut the hospital didn’t come as a shock to some workers members, stated Dr. Sulieman Wazeerud-Din, an emergency medication doctor on the hospital, who stated medical doctors “had been conscious of monetary losses.”

However the abrupt announcement triggered a profound sense of grief amongst medical doctors, nurses, and different nonmedical staff, he stated.

Within the days because the closure announcement, Grady has supplied jobs to a spread of Atlanta Medical Middle staff, from physicians and nurses to housekeeping and safety staffers.

David Patton has lived in Atlanta’s Outdated Fourth Ward for 30 years and stated Atlanta Medical Middle has been an enormous a part of his life.

His grandfather died in a nursing residence on the campus, he has gotten care on the ER, and his son took swimming classes on the hospital’s athletic membership, all whereas he has seen the neighborhood rework from a “forgotten” a part of the town to 1 that’s change into a lightning rod for brand spanking new improvement.

“It boggles my thoughts that an establishment like that may simply shut down nearly in a single day,” he stated.

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