‘Cannot afford to lose this facility’ | Metro physician dismayed over Atlanta Medical Center closure
Wellstar is closing longtime downtown Level 1 trauma center later this year
ATLANTA, Ga. (CBS46) - Dr. Cecil Bennett reacted with shock and disbelief when he heard Wednesday’s news that Wellstar is closing the Atlanta Medical Center in downtown Atlanta on Nov. 1.
“I trained at Atlanta Medical Center; my first official office as a doctor was at Atlanta Medical Center back in 2001; my last daughter was born at Atlanta Medical Center,” Bennett, who now runs his own practice at Newnan Family Medicine, said. “There is no doubt in my mind this closing will impact patient care throughout metro Atlanta.”
Atlanta Medical Center is only one of two trauma centers in metro Atlanta equipped to care for people with critical injuries like gunshots, burns and blunt force trauma, among other injuries.
Until last year, Bennett had a 20-year relationship with the hospital. “I know the impact this closure will have on the patient population around Atlanta Medical Center,” Bennett said. “I think about all of the patients I’ve seen over the years in that community and how vital that hospital is, for people to simply have easy access to it.
“To even think that a Level 1 trauma center is closing is really concerning to me.”
Mayor Andre Dickens said he was blindsided by Wednesday’s announcement. He sent a letter to the Wellstar Health System President Candice Saudners, writing, “The closure will leave an open wound in the heart of this community.”
The mayor is demanding a meeting by Sept. 16 during which Wellstar is expected to explain the surprise closure.
“I don’t know what was going on behind the scenes, but it seems like state officials were taken off guard by this action,” Bennett said. “That bothers me; when such a traumatic decision is made, it seems that all hands should’ve been on deck. We cannot afford to lose this facility. We just can’t.”
Grady Memorial Hospital will soon be the city’s only Level 1 trauma center. Bennett, who also trained at Grady, has no idea “where those patients are going to go.”
“Grady always has been wall-to-wall patients in its emergency room,” Bennett said. “That hasn’t changed. Where these patients are now going to go really concerns me. The greatest concern is the ‘golden hour,’ where is we can’t get a patient adequate care within the first hour of the incident, within a reasonable time, then lives are going to be lost.”
What is now Atlanta Medical Center began on Thanksgiving Day 1091, when the pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church created an infirmary for his church. The infirmary quickly grew and sold to the Georgia Baptist Convention in 1913 and renamed Georgia Baptist Hospital.
In 1921 the hospital moved to its current, Old Fourth Ward site at Boulevard and East Avenue. In 1997, Georgia Baptist Hospital was sold to Tenet Healthcare and renamed Atlanta Medical Center. Wellstar Health System bought the facility in 2016.
Fifty thousand of the 65,000 patients who were seen in Atlanta Medical Center’s emergency room over the past year are considered low-income, according to hospital staff.
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