Atlanta mayor disputes Wellstar account that hospital closure was only option

Atlanta's mayor said Wellstar Health System received interest from buyers for its Atlanta Medical Center and had the property valued before announcing it would close the 460-bed hospital Nov. 1, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Nov. 15. 

The new information from the mayor, shared in an exclusive interview with the AJC, challenges the narrative put forward by Wellstar's CEO and board chair, who earlier this month said they completed an "exhaustive search" for partners and found no other paths forward but closure of the facility. 

"We understand and share the community's disappointment that the hospital has closed as of November 1," Candice Saunders, president and CEO of Wellstar, and O. Scott Swayze, MD, chair of the board of trustees for Wellstar, wrote in a Nov. 2 op-ed for the AJC. "While the decision may have felt abrupt, it came after an exhaustive search where a national consulting firm identified a number of potential partners. However, after learning more about AMC's infrastructure and finances, none were willing to move forward. Discussions with state, local and community officials also offered no alternate paths forward."

In his Nov. 14 interview, Mr. Dickens did not suggest that Wellstar struck a deal to sell Atlanta Medical Center. He and Atlanta COO Lisa Gordon did say Wellstar was not forthcoming when city officials initially asked for more information about its closure plans.

"We were trying to understand...what is the overall goal of this?" Mr. Dickens told the local newspaper. "And then later, you find out: 'Oh, yeah, we got offers all the time. And...we did an appraisal.'"

In its comment to the AJC, Wellstar did not specify when it performed the assessments or say whether anyone else had commissioned an appraisal as part of previous talks. The system said the AMC property was not under contract for sale and it's not currently engaged in talks with buyers or developers regarding the future of the hospital campus.

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens has issued an executive order to ban redevelopment permits for the shuttered hospital site until April 23, 2023. He said lack of clarity about Wellstar's intentions for the property led to the imposition of the temporary ban on permitting or zoning changes to the campus.

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