Wellstar Atlanta Medical Center's final year: A timeline

When Atlanta Medical Center shuttered, it was the closure heard cross-country. 

Marietta, Ga.-based Wellstar's announcement that AMC would close elicited strong backlash from patients, providers, city officials and national media outlets. The 460-bed safety-net hospital sat on 20 acres in an underserved area of Atlanta, and was one of only two Level 1 trauma centers in the city. 

AMC became a spotlit example of safety-net closures around the U.S.: serving as fodder for conversations surrounding health equity, care coordination and the extent of hospitals' responsibilities to the communities they serve. 

These are the events that led to and followed AMC's closure, as told by Becker's coverage. 

Jan. 20: Physicians and medical officers from six Atlanta health providers, including Wellstar, hosted a news briefing urging the public to take precautionary measures against the pandemic. They explained that COVID-19 patients were overwhelming the hospitals and said "healthcare doesn't feel like heroes anymore." 

May 6: Atlanta Medical Center South, AMC's sister facility, closed its emergency department and ended inpatient services. The hospital converted into a 24-hour outpatient site, and all inpatient services — including an average of 140 emergency department patients per day — were directed to AMC. 

July 5: The Lown Institute found that AMC shouldered the highest COVID-19 burden of any Atlanta hospital. Between March 1, 2020, and Feb. 28, 2021, the hospital had at least 10 percent of its inpatient beds filled with COVID-19 patients for 41 weeks. The regional average was 26 weeks. 

Aug. 31: Wellstar announced that AMC would close Nov. 1 via a news release. The health system said it invested more than $350 million in capital improvements and to support sustained operating losses at the facility, including $107 million lost in the past 12 months. Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens said he received no advance notice of the hospital's closure, and neighboring Grady Health System — the only other level 1 trauma center in Atlanta — said it was "extremely disappointed" in Wellstar's decision. 

Sept. 6: Mr. Dickens penned a letter to Wellstar CEO Candice Saunders expressing "extreme concerns" about the announcement to close AMC. He requested information regarding the company's plans to repurpose the campus, support affected personnel and mitigate health and economic impacts to the community. 

Sept. 8: The Fulton County, Ga., Board of Commissioners approved a one-time cash infusion of $11 million to Grady Memorial Hospital to cover unexpected labor costs. 

Sept. 12: Grady recieved a $130 million cash infusion from the state's American Rescue Plan to add an additional 200 beds to the 953-bed facility. 

Sept. 15: Atlanta-based Emory University reaffirmed its partnership with Grady in a news release. The release anticipated consequences for Grady and Emory's hospitals, including negative impacts to care quality, patient outcomes and wait times. 

Sept. 26: More than 82 percent of AMC's workforce had already accepted jobs elsewhere, Wellstar told Becker's. Mr. Dickens blocked redevelopment plans for  the hospital campus in an executive order, saying it should remain as a healthcare center. 

Oct. 3: A city councilman proposed redeveloping the hospital as an equity center, including services for the homeless. Government officials, activists and business leaders have been discussing an equity center in Atlanta since 2020. 

Oct. 4: AMC began diverting patients from its emergency department. One day later, NBC-affiliate WXIA reported that Grady Memorial Hospital is "packed." 

Oct. 11: DeKalb County approved a $20 million relief plan to support Grady and Emory Hillandale Hospital in Lithonia, Ga. 

Oct. 12: Mr. Dickens extended his redevelopment ban on AMC.  

Oct. 13: In a letter to Ms. Saunders, U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnockenator urged Wellstar to drop noncompete clauses in physicians' contracts so they could find work at nearby hospitals. 

Oct. 14: AMC's emergency department shuttered as local emergency response times increased

Oct. 18: Grady reported seeing 25 percent to 30 percent more trauma patients in the four days following AMC's emergency department closure. 

Oct. 19: Mr. Dickens criticized Wellstar at a town hall meeting, saying the decision to close AMC proved they "don't want to be in the business of urban healthcare," Mr. Dickens said. "They can't sell the hospital and knock it down and make condos or a fancy Starbucks or whatever. The community knows that we need a hospital."

Oct. 24: At a town hall meeting, Mr. Dickens said he aims to find a new operator to keep AMC afloat. 

Oct. 25: Eighty percent of Atlanta hospitals hit capacity, according to the Georgia Coordinating Center. 

Nov. 1: AMC officially closed. In a news release, Grady shared its action plan, from adding more practitioners and beds to implementing a 911 triage system. 

Nov. 2: Ms. Saunders and O. Scott Swayze, MD, chair of the board of trustees for Wellstar wrote an op-ed for The Atlanta Journal Constitution. They said that the hospital's closure was not abrupt because Wellstar held an "exhaustive" search for partners, but none were willing to move forward after learning more about AMC's infrastructure and finances. 

Nov. 14: In an interview, Mr. Dickens disputed Ms. Saunders' claims that closure was the only option for AMC. His redevelopment ban was extended through April 23. 

Dec. 1: Grady's chief medical officer, Robert Jansen, MD, spoke with Becker's about the month following AMC's closure. Despite an uptick in trauma and OB volume and an ominous winter season, he said he remains "cautiously optimistic" about 2023.

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