Looming Atlanta Medical Center closure poses risks to other safety net hospitals

The closure of Wellstar Atlanta Medical Center could start a chain reaction for struggling state safety net hospitals, Georgia Public Broadcasting reported Oct. 13. 

Wellstar Atlanta Medical Center is asking emergency agencies to seek help elsewhere as of Oct. 3, and the hospital is set to shutter its emergency department Oct. 14. The case has garnered government and media attention, but it is unlikely to be an outlier, according to the radio station. 

The patients from Wellstar's facility — at least 10 percent of whom cannot afford to pay for care and 20 percent of whom rely on federal health insurance — will now have to go to other safety net hospitals, which are already struggling, according to the radio station. 

Grady Memorial Hospital, which is one mile from Atlanta Medical Center, is expected to take on 200 extra patients per day once the Wellstar facility closes. However, it already frequently hits capacity and sends patients elsewhere, the radio station reported. 

Northern and Southern Georgia hospitals frequently divert patients to Atlanta for more intensive care, adding to the overload. Dennis Ashley, president of Charlotte, N.C.-based Atrium Health's The Medical Center in Macon, Ga., told Georgia Public Broadcasting his facility has its "hands full." 

Lobbyists are turning to the state to award rescue funds to Grady Memorial, which would allow it to expand by about 200 beds. Expanding Medicaid could also help, though state lawmakers have historically opposed the measure, Georgia Public Broadcasting reported. 

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