Hunting for a hospital in a healthcare desert

State lawmakers are making a big step in getting another hospital in Fulton County.
Published: Mar. 28, 2023 at 6:53 PM EDT
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SOUTH FULTON, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - Fulton County officials say the sudden closure of Atlanta Medical Center and Atlanta Medical Center – South last year created a critical gap in care south of Interstate 20.

State lawmakers are making a big step in getting another hospital in Fulton County.

What used to take those in South Fulton just a few minutes to get to the er now takes 22 minutes. Those in this community want a closer option soon.

For Margaret Snider, it’s been 10 months without a hospital nearby. She lives just down the road from Wellstar’s East Point Health Center. Wellstar turned the ER there into an urgent care clinic in May.

“I lived here during the thick of COVID and I had neighbors who went into cardiac arrest, and they were able to go right down the road to this hospital, and we don’t have that anymore,” Snider said. “So if to have any emergency in the future, it would look very different in our neighborhood now.”

Five months later, Wellstar closed another hospital: Atlanta Medical Center in the Old Fourth Ward neighborhood, leaving Atlanta with no hospitals south of i-20.

At the time, Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens immediately knew what was needed and who was in need most.

“We’re going to work hard to try to attract some medical facilities to the south side of town and emergency doesn’t care what neighborhood you live in, it just happens,” Dickens said.

The Senate just passed a resolution activating the hospital authorities for the cities of East Point and South Fulton – the first step to lure a hospital to southern Fulton County.

South Fulton Mayor Khalid Kamau said that a hospital is not the most pressing healthcare need in South Fulton.

“For us, the priority right now is making sure that we have quality rapid response EMS service,” Kamau said.

Snider believes her community needs a hospital.

“If they can’t find the funding, they can’t make it work to have another hospital, obviously something is better than nothing. But I think having an emergency room is imperative for the community,” she said.

Robb Pitts with the Fulton County Board Of Commissioners said the county is in the midst of a study to figure out if a 500-bed replacement hospital is even in the county’s best interest. He suggested maybe a small ER with added clinics is more cost-efficient. Pitts expects movement on this issue by mid-April.