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 trendy 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 elements of city.

Atlanta Medical Heart, a 460-bed Degree 1 trauma heart, would be the subsequent fixture to vary.

Regardless of banners proclaiming the hospital’s dedication to the realm — “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 prior to now decade, however this 12 months 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 beneath the Reasonably priced Care Act, and hospital officers throughout the state say inaction has harm their backside traces 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 neighborhood.

On a latest weekday morning, Teresa Smith, 60, who lives within the neighborhood, stated she often receives care there for a power digestive concern. “This hospital shall 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 shall 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 in regards to the closure.

Nancy Kane, an adjunct professor at Harvard’s T.H. Chan Faculty of Public Well being, sees connections between the Atlanta scenario 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.

“If you happen to purchase a hospital, it is best to have an obligation to repair it up,” stated Kane. “Wellstar has the funds to take a position on this hospital. It’s a selection.”

Some neighborhood members ponder whether 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 turn 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 concern. And on the heart of the controversy 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 operating for a second time period in November, is unlikely to attempt to preserve the power 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 couple of monetary infusion of state funding that might assist capital wants at Grady Memorial Hospital, a Degree 1 trauma heart a couple of mile from Atlanta Medical Heart.

Grady is anticipating as many as 2,500 additional emergency room visits a month after Atlanta Medical Heart 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 shall 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 12 months 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 circulate 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 might 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 concern.

“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 attributable to Georgia’s refusal to develop Medicaid. Wellstar officers have stated that Medicaid enlargement alone wouldn’t have stored the Atlanta facility open.

Earlier this 12 months, Wellstar stopped offering emergency room and inpatient companies at its hospital in East Level, simply southwest of Atlanta. On the time, it stated these sufferers could possibly be seen at Atlanta Medical Heart, about 8 miles away. Haupert estimated it will value lots of of tens of millions 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 direction of rural Georgia now unexpectedly turns into an Atlanta-area concern,” she stated.

Gillespie cautioned that different points, corresponding to inflation, crime, and abortion, are more likely to be extra motivating to Georgia voters.

Wellstar, primarily based in suburban Marietta, acquired AMC and the East Level hospital from Tenet Healthcare throughout 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 strategy sadly has resulted in massive parts of Atlanta’s black and brown communities not gaining access to proximate and significant well being care companies,” 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 lowering income and growing prices for workers and provides on account of 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 brought about a profound sense of grief amongst medical doctors, nurses, and different nonmedical workers, he stated.

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

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

His grandfather died in a nursing dwelling 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 improvement.

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

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 info on well being points to the nation.

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