‘An intentional failure’ | A timeline of Atlanta Medical Center’s closing

Atlanta News First Investigates uncovers Wellstar’s plans to leave the city with a single Level 1 trauma center
Atlanta Medical Center’s closing an ‘intentional failure’
Published: Oct. 11, 2022 at 12:00 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 28, 2022 at 2:22 PM EDT
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ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - With less than a month before its doors close forever, Atlanta Medical Center’s (AMC) closing is being called an “intentional failure” by some staff and community leaders.

But Wellstar, the not-for-profit health system that owns AMC, continues arguing the claims are unfounded.

An Atlanta News First Investigation found advocates have long accused Wellstar of not doing enough to help AMC thrive.

Susie Johnson, an AMC medical technologist, called the hospital’s closing “mean-spirited” and “underhanded.” She has been skeptical of Wellstar’s ownership of AMC since it began six years ago.

RELATED: ‘We cannot afford to lose this facility’ | Metro physician dismayed over AMC’s closure

Wellstar continues maintaining the closure was not an easy decision:

A letter obtained by Atlanta News First Investigates revealed Wellstar’s plan to not just close Atlanta Medical Center but also merge its name with its Kennestone Hospital. That letter was dated Aug. 31, 2022, the same day Wellstar announced AMC’s closing, a move which will eventually leave the city of Atlanta with a single Level 1 trauma center.

Wellstar also had filed paperwork in June with the Georgia Department of Community Health to change the name to Kennestone Regional Medical Center.

RELATED: Atlanta mayor says he was blindsided by Atlanta Medical Center closure

Workers claim significant upgrades and resources barely trickled into AMC over the years. Stakeholders said they demanded long-term service strategies that never came. Wellstar disputes those claims, explaining it spent $350 million in improvements:

Back in 2016, Tenant Healthcare owned five area hospitals, including AMC. Tenant sold all of them in a bundle deal to Wellstar, meaning Wellstar inherited the already financially struggling AMC, a facility that primarily served low-income families.

“They didn’t really want us,” Johnson said.

However, Wellstar said it always intended to identify a path forward:

Members of Wellstar AMC’s community advisory board seemingly felt the opposite. Atlanta News First Investigates obtained a copy of a letter sent last year from the board to Wellstar trustees.

The not-for-profit health system argues it did thorough search for help. When Atlanta News First Investigates asked Wellstar about efforts made to have the public-private partnerships it previously committed finding, the company sent us this statement:

Metro Atlanta healthcare economist Bill Custer calls not-for-profit hospitals “a legal construct” and are designed to provide “services at highest quality, lowest cost.”

Custer said Medicare and private insurers require hospitals to offer more treatment than ever before. As such, the medical market has more not-for-profits focused on profits.

“There’s been a variety of attempts to try to give not-for-profit hospitals incentives or regulations that directs them more toward fulfilling that community mission,” Custer said.

In fact, a new study from Johns Hopkins University recommends just that. Researchers collected data on every U.S. not-for-profit hospital, and also examined private hospitals and government-run hospitals.

The results revealed “many government and not-for-profit hospitals’ charity care provision was not aligned with their charity care obligations arising from their favorable tax treatment.”

According to the latest charity care reports, AMC provided $62 million in charity care in 2020.

Due to tax exemptions, another requirement for not-for-profit hospitals is a Community Health Needs Assessment Report. AMC’s own assessment report identified six priority issues for Atlanta, the first being “access to health care.” The remaining priorities were behavioral health, food access and chronic disease management, housing, pediatric and women’s health.

Since “access to healthcare” was the top priority, advocates feel AMC’s closure only adds insult to injury.

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