Atlanta hospital to close at midnight; neighboring Grady overcrowds, plans 'help line'

Two months after Wellstar Atlanta Medical Center announced it would lock its doors for good, the hospital will shutter at midnight on Nov. 1 — its future, and the future of the neighboring hospitals it leaves behind, remain uncertain. 

The closure of the 460-bed hospital has drawn concern from local hospital leaders, community members, government officials and health equity leaders. Sixty-seven percent of the facility's emergency room patients were Black, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Without it, a major source of care for underserved populations will dissolve, leading to overcrowding at other nearby safety net hospitals. City officials have debated transforming the site into an equity center, although Mayor Andre Dickens has expressed his will to keep it a medical facility: the city council has implemented a redevelopment ban on the 20-acre site until April 23, 2023, the Journal-Constitution reports. 

Since the medical center closed its emergency department Oct. 14 —leaving nearby Grady Memorial Hospital the only level 1 trauma center in Atlanta — local emergency response times have soared. Nearby hospitals absorbed the Wellstar facility's former patients, creating an uptick which led 80 percent of them to hit capacity. 

Now, Grady Memorial is implementing a "help line" to address overcrowding in its emergency room, 11Alive reported Oct. 30. The system will help triage cases before they reach the hospital's doors. Patients will be encouraged to call the line prior to coming in, and a staffer will guide them toward the emergency room or walk-in clinic. 

"We have seen an increase in volume, but one of the things that we know is that a lot of patients who come to emergency rooms don't really need to be there. And there are alternatives," Robert Jansen, MD, chief medical officer at Grady Memorial Hospital told 11Alive

"You're bleeding. That's probably a different thing. That's an emergency room. You have an acute pain that you can't explain and it's really, really severe. That's a different thing," Dr. Jansen said.

Grady's help line is in the final planning stages and will be available "in the coming weeks," Dr. Jansen told the newspaper. Meanwhile, the city has funneled $20 million in relief funds into Grady Memorial Hospital and Lithonia, Ga.-based Emory Hillandale Hospital. 

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