Impending Hospital Closure Rattles Atlanta Health Care Landscape and Political Races


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

Condominium 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 Heart, a 460-bed Degree 1 trauma middle, 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, not too long ago introduced plans to shut the hospital’s doorways on Nov. 1.

Georgia has seen a number of rural hospitals shutter previously 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 Inexpensive Care Act, and hospital officers throughout the state say inaction has damage their backside strains as a result of they nonetheless deal with excessive numbers of uninsured sufferers, lots of whom can not pay for remedy.

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

On a latest weekday morning, Teresa Smith, 60, who lives within the neighborhood, mentioned she often receives care there for a continual digestive subject. “This hospital will likely be missed by the entire group,” she mentioned.

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

Wellstar declined KHN’s request for an interview in regards to the closure.

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

Many had been acquired by giant well being care firms as a part of bundle offers, and served largely low-income, minority populations.

“When you purchase a hospital, you must have an obligation to repair it up,” mentioned Kane. “Wellstar has the funds to speculate on this hospital. It’s a alternative.”

Some group members wonder if the hospital closure will result in an expensive actual property growth on the roughly 20 acres Wellstar owns within the neighborhood.

Randy Pimsler, an architect whose agency has designed tasks within the space, mentioned “it may turn into a clean slate, both for redevelopment or for brand spanking new growth.”

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

The Kemp workforce is working to place collectively a long-term plan for strengthening well being care within the space after the closure, mentioned Andrew Isenhour, a Kemp spokesperson. Kemp, a Republican who’s operating 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 mentioned this week that they’ve met with Kemp’s workplace, Dickens, and officers from Fulton and DeKalb counties a couple of monetary infusion of state funding that may assist capital wants at Grady Memorial Hospital, a Degree 1 trauma middle a couple of mile from Atlanta Medical Heart.

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

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

State funding would speed up Grady’s current plans to transform places of work 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 subsequent six weeks, and is planning to put in a 24-bed area hospital to assist deal with the affected person movement from the closed hospital.

The closing places Medicaid enlargement “entrance and middle” within the political dialog, Haupert mentioned. Kemp has proposed a restricted plan that may supply 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 high marketing campaign subject.

“That is not a shock,” Abrams mentioned. “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 increase Medicaid. Wellstar officers have mentioned that Medicaid enlargement alone wouldn’t have saved the Atlanta facility open.

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

The closures only a few months aside may assist Abrams’ arguments for Medicaid enlargement resonate with voters, mentioned 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 impulsively turns into an Atlanta-area subject,” she mentioned.

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

Wellstar, based mostly 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 group board for AMC, mentioned the system put extra sources into its suburban amenities.

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

In Wellstar’s announcement of the closure, it mentioned 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 employees and provides as a consequence of hovering inflation.”

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

However the abrupt announcement brought on a profound sense of grief amongst docs, nurses, and different nonmedical staff, he mentioned.

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

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

His grandfather died in a nursing house 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 town to at least one that’s turn into a lightning rod for brand spanking new growth.

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

This story was produced by KHN (Kaiser Well being Information), a nationwide newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about well being points. Along with Coverage Evaluation and Polling, KHN is without doubt one of the three main working applications at KFF (Kaiser Household Basis). KFF is an endowed nonprofit group offering data on well being points to the nation.

KHN (Kaiser Well being Information) is a nationwide newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about well being points. Along with Coverage Evaluation and Polling, KHN is without doubt one of the three main working applications at KFF (Kaiser Household Basis). KFF is an endowed nonprofit group offering data on well being points to the nation.

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