Wellstar faces another federal complaint over hospital closures

The Fulton County (Ga.) Commission voted on March 15 to file a complaint with the Justice Department against Marietta, Ga.-based Wellstar Health System, marking the third request for federal complaints against the health system over its closure of two Atlanta-area hospitals in a week, according to a report from WABE

Last week, the civil rights organization NAACP, and a coalition of Georgia Democrats and other lawmakers filed two federal complaints against Wellstar over its closure of Atlanta Medical Center South in East Point and its 460-bed sister facility, Atlanta Medical Center — both in primarily Black areas. The first complaint was filed with the IRS and asks for an investigation of Wellstar's tax-exempt status, while the second was filed with HHS' civil rights office, alleging the closures violated the 1964 Civil Rights Act. 

The latest complaint from Fulton County "will go directly to the Department of Justice, which has more teeth," said Robert Pitts, chair of the Fulton County Commision, according to WABE. "It has a serious, strong enforcement division." 

Mr. Pitts said the closures, in May and November of 2022, "created a healthcare desert in Central and South Fulton County. And number two, it is a classic example of healthcare redlining." 

The health system is also facing criticism for exploring a merger with Augusta (Ga.) University Health System, which could include a hospital that would serve a county where 71.3 percent of residents are white, according to The Augusta Chronicle.

In a statement to Becker's earlier this month, Wellstar said any complaints suggesting the health system discriminated against patients are "outrageous and false," noting it is the largest provider of charity care in Georgia and in the top 10 nationwide. 

Wellstar also provided the following statement to WABE

"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. 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."

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