Wellstar CEO: Atlanta Medical Center closed after 'exhaustive search' for partners

While the decision from Wellstar Health System to close the 460-bed Atlanta Medical Center may have felt abrupt or unexpected to the community, it followed an "exhaustive search" for partners, the system's CEO and board chair wrote in a Nov. 2 op-ed for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The op-ed from Candice Saunders, president and CEO of Wellstar, and O. Scott Swayze, MD, chair of the board of trustees for Wellstar, ran in the local newspaper the day after Atlanta Medical Center closed Nov. 1. When the AJC first reported Wellstar's hospital closure plans Aug. 31, the news was met with surprise and backlash from community members, politicians and AMC employees. 

"We understand and share the community's disappointment that the hospital has closed as of November 1," Ms. Saunders and Dr. Swayze wrote in their shared op-ed. "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."

The leaders said nearly 75 percent of more than 1,780 offers to AMC team members for new positions with Wellstar were accepted. Grady Health System, now the sole level 1 trauma center in Atlanta, has hired an unspecified number of former Atlanta Medical Center trauma surgeons and primary care physicians, it said in a Nov. 1 statement

Wellstar's CEO and board chair said now that AMC is closed, the system "will continue to secure and maintain the facility and begin a thoughtful process to determine what is next for the site." Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens has issued an executive order to ban redevelopment permits for the shuttered hospital site until April 23, 2023. 

Wellstar has operated Atlanta Medical Center since 2016. More than two-thirds (67.3%) of the 4,281 emergency room patients that AMC treated in 2019 were Black, and over half of patients were covered by Medicare and Medicaid, according to data released by Wellstar in 2020 cited by the AJC.

In the Aug. 31 statement announcing its closure plans, Wellstar said it has invested more than $350 million in capital improvements and to support sustained operating losses at the hospital, including a loss of $107 million in the last year. It pointed to decreasing revenue and increasing costs for staff and supplies, worsened by inflation. 

In their Nov. 2 op-ed, Ms. Saunders and Dr. Swayze expanded on the factors they said contributed to the hospital's closure. 

"The challenges we faced at AMC were multi-faceted and included the age of AMC's buildings, patients using less than half of the bed capacity and lack of public support while caring for communities most in need of whole-person wellness offerings such as primary and preventive care. Compounding these issues were the intense financial pressures facing hospital systems across the country. Like many of our peers, we felt the pain of the end of government pandemic aid and the skyrocketing costs of supplies and labor. The needed investment to address these challenges was simply too great for Wellstar alone." 

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