Wellstar CEO, CFO defend Atlanta hospital closures

The CEO and CFO of Marietta, Ga.-based Wellstar Health System are standing by the decision to close two hospitals in Atlanta amid allegations of racism. 

CEO Candice Saunders and CFO Jim Budzinski represented Wellstar at a June 5 meeting of the state's Health and Human Services Committee, the Atlanta Business Chronicle reported. State lawmakers criticized the health system for shuttering Atlanta Medical Center and Atlanta Medical Center South last fall, removing care options for a primarily Black patient population. 

The decision has drawn more scrutiny as Wellstar committed to invest nearly $800 million over 10 years in a partnership with Augusta University Health System: including a new hospital and medical office buildings which will service a primarily white population in Columbia County. 

"There's money," State Sen. Nan Orrock said at the meeting, according to Capitol Beat. "It was just not spent here. You folded your tent and walked away."

However, Ms. Saunders and Mr. Budzinski said the closure was unavoidable without COVID-19 relief funds. The hospital's aging infrastructure, low patient volumes and high labor costs scared potential partners away. 

"We were unable to find a partner because each of them reached the same conclusion we did: AMC's financial trajectory was unsustainable," Ms. Saunders said. 

Ms. Saunders also alleged the state was not forthcoming with relief funds for AMC. 

"We did our best," Ms. Saunders said. "We exhausted all options we were aware of."

The state is not the first to question Wellstar's motives in closing AMC and AMC South. The civil rights organization NAACP, along with Georgia Democrats and other lawmakers, filed two federal complaints against Wellstar in March.


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