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Wellstar, AU Health merger raises concerns

State lawmakers and consumer advocates have raised consolidation concerns about Wellstar Health System's proposed merger with Augusta (Ga.) University Health System after the nonprofit system recently closed two Atlanta hospitals that had been underperforming, The Augusta Chronicle reported.

The hospitals — Atlanta Medical Center and Atlanta Medical Center South — served largely Black populations, according to the report. 

On March 15, the Fulton County (Ga.) Commission voted to file a complaint with the Justice Department against Marietta, Ga.-based Wellstar, which was the third request for federal complaints against the system over its closure of the hospitals in a week. NAACP, a civil rights organization, and a coalition of Georgia Democrats and other lawmakers also filed federal complaints against Wellstar.

"We must set the record straight about why Wellstar had to close AMC and why we are exploring options in Augusta. We spent more than two years trying to do so," according to the health system. "In fact, our efforts to find another health system partner and work with government officials to find a solution started well before our decision was announced to close AMC in 2022. This included direct discussions with policymakers in Fulton County, including Chairman Pitts, as early as February 2020. Unfortunately, local policymakers declined to provide any support to AMC as they rightly have and do with the other safety net hospital in Atlanta."

As part of the merger, Wellstar has committed to invest $800 million in Augusta facilities over the next 10 years and bring more clinicians through the state as it works closely with the university's Medical College of Georgia. 

"As our two organizations have worked together over the last three months to reach this agreement, the rationale for our partnering with Wellstar has only grown stronger — to enable our health system to thrive in today's challenging healthcare environment and to extend our mission of improving health for all Georgians through excellence in patient care, education and research," Brooks Keel, PhD, president of Augusta University and acting CEO of Augusta University Health System, said.

The transaction, which is subject to egulatory approvals, is expected to close in the summer.

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