AJC: Atlanta Medical Center Closure Brings Higher Costs, Risks For Grady

September 30, 2022

“The impact of AMC’s closure could be life or death for some patients”

With the imminent closure of The Atlanta Medical Center, even more patients will seek care at Grady Memorial Hospital, making its need for more funding even more urgent.

A new report from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution highlights the concerns of doctors and health care professionals about how Gov. Brian Kemp’s one-time payment to Grady — funded by Democrats’ American Rescue Plan, which Kemp criticized — is “not enough” to paper over the consequences of his refusal to expand Medicaid, which blocks over 500,000 Georgians from accessing affordable health care. 

The AJC story also notes how patients and providers are preparing for the sixth Georgia hospital to close under Brian Kemp’s tenure, during which 70% of Georgians report struggling with health care and our uninsured rate is the 2nd highest in the nation at 14.5%.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Atlanta Medical Center closure brings higher costs, risks for Grady

  • Grady Health System CEO John Haupert walked into Fulton County government headquarters in April armed with documents bearing a clear message: He needed more money.
  • The number of patients coming to Grady was growing by the day and staffing costs were through the roof. Without a sizable increase in funds from Fulton and DeKalb counties, whose citizens form the bulk of Grady patients, he warned the hospital faced a budget shortfall.
  • Now, with the seismic news that Wellstar Health System is closing the city’s only other safety net hospital, even more patients will be seeking care at Grady, making its need for more funding even more urgent.
  • Gov. Brian Kemp is funneling a one-time $130 million payment to the hospital intended to finance nearly 200 new beds. But not mentioned in the publicity firestorm was that Grady already needed those extra beds and that extra funding.
  • “Clearly, the $130 million covers the capital cost,” Haupert said in a recent interview. “But that’s not enough.”
  • Much of the concern about the loss of Atlanta Medical Center’s downtown location centers on its emergency room. AMC and Grady’s emergency rooms are the only two in Atlanta certified as a “Level 1 trauma center” capable of treating the most severe injuries. But even with both hospitals operating, their emergency rooms overflow with not just trauma, but patients of all stripes, straining every department.
  • Metro Atlanta ambulance dispatchers are guided by an online chart of emergency rooms that tells them where there’s space available to receive ambulances. On most days, Grady glows bright red noting severe overcrowding and signaling ambulances to take emergency patients elsewhere. And too often emergency patients that are accepted wind up being held overnight in the emergency department, waiting for a regular hospital bed to open up — “boarding” as it’s known in the industry.
  • So Grady may be able to compensate for some of the lost AMC hospital beds, with its expansion plan speeded up. But its leaders are clear: Grady was already planning those new hospital beds regardless of AMC’s closure, because it already needed them. In addition, other essential medical services could be harder to replace.
  • Bonsu, the orthopedic ER doctor, stood on the sidewalk facing Jesse Hill Drive in front of Grady this week to argue for the state to expand Medicaid to all poor adults. If that happened, the federal government would pay 90% of the cost of the new Medicaid patients’ care, bringing an estimated $3 billion per year into the state. According to Grady, 17.4% of AMC’s patients have no insurance.
  • The group of doctors and health care workers protesting outside Grady this week warned that the impact of AMC’s closure could be life or death for some patients. For example, when a patient has a stroke, the brain loses its supply of oxygen. That means for every extra minute of travel time to the hospital, it’s another minute of damage to that patient’s brain function. The same urgency is true for patients who are experiencing a heart attack.
  • Dr. Mark Spencer, a resident in internal medicine at Grady, said that Wellstar’s earlier closure of an emergency room and inpatient hospital beds at AMC South in East Point is offering a preview of what’s to come when the downtown location also closes.
  • “There’s already been documented cases of patients having worse outcomes because they’re coming from south of I-20,” said Spencer, who is also a resident at Emory hospitals including Emory Midtown. “That’s a direct consequence of AMC South closing, and we’ll see more of the same when AMC closes.”


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