Atlanta mayor criticizes Wellstar for closing 460-bed hospital

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens spoke out against the nonprofit Wellstar Health System at an Oct. 19 community town hall, alleging its decision to close Atlanta Medical Center is reflective of its values, The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported Oct. 20. 

The Oct. 14 closure of the 460-bed hospital's emergency department and its pending Nov. 1 shutdown has attracted concern from equity leaders, since it was a safety-net hospital that saw a large number of underinsured patients. In May, Wellstar closed Atlanta Medical Center South; this second closure widens the care gap for low-income populations, according to the Journal Constitution

"Wellstar said they don't want to be in the business of urban health care. That's essentially what they said when they closed AMC North, which is Georgia Baptist, and AMC South in East Point," Mr. Dickens said at the town hall. 

Mr. Dickens — who was born and lives in southern Atlanta communities affected by the closure, according to the newspaper — has expressed concerns to Wellstar in the past. On Sept. 9, he wrote a letter to Wellstar CEO Candice Saunders, urging her to find alternate solutions and keep the medical center afloat. 

Once the closure became official, Mr. Dickens was vocal about the 20-acre hospital site's future. In a Sept. 26 executive order, he blocked applications to redevelop the site, saying the community needed a medical center in that space. Despite conversations about making the site an equity center, Mr. Dickens' ban was extended for 180 days on Oct. 17, according to the newspaper. 

"They can't sell the hospital and knock it down and make condos or a fancy Starbucks or whatever," Mr. Dickens said at the town hall. "The community knows that we need a hospital."

Mr. Dickens said his administration is discussing solutions for the lack of hospitals in southern parts of the city where, in some communities, the newspaper reported there is not a single physician's office or urgent care. Lisa Gordon, the city's COO, said the city is working with local governments to identify care gaps and let residents know where they can receive care. 

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