(Bloomberg) — The Atlanta Medical Center sits on a large stretch of urban land, just a mile south of Ponce de Leon Avenue — the street that segregationists more than a century ago named as the dividing line between Black and White Atlanta.
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That distinction was on display Thursday, when a group of Georgia religious leaders held a press conference outside the hospital, asking Governor Brian Kemp to meet with them, and find a way to stop the planned closing of the 120-year-old medical center. age. , along with others like him in the state.
“Let’s be honest, this is about devaluing Black and Brown and poor people,” said the Rev. Shanan Jones, president of Concerned Black Clergy in Atlanta. “Her life is over. Their lives matter.”
Wellstar Health System, which operates 10 hospitals and dozens of other health care facilities across Georgia, announced earlier this month that it will close the Atlanta Medical Center on Nov. 1, leaving the city with 460 fewer hospital beds. and only one hospital can handle it. the most serious medical emergencies. As of 2018, Georgia has lost at least six hospitals, mostly in rural areas. The state of about 10 million people now has only four medical facilities capable of handling the worst trauma.
It’s a big question for Kemp, who is facing a rough re-election campaign this fall. Her Democratic opponent, Stacey Abrams, blamed the incumbent governor last week for refusing to expand Medicaid, a move she says has helped stabilize health care systems in other states, and one Abrams has promised to take if elected. in November.
At his own press conference at the State Capitol on Thursday, Kemp announced $130 million in state dollars to expand the capacity of Grady Hospital — the district’s other Level One trauma center that is also a safety net hospital for the poor — with more than 200 beds. . The funds are coming from the American Rescue Plan Act, the federal Covid-19 relief money that Kemp had earlier opposed. Kemp said Grady will also receive an additional $130 million due to a change in the funding formula for insurance plans implemented in July, as well as the addition of 24 patient rooms. “These are not bailout solutions,” Kemp said.
“The governor’s announcement is not enough” said Rev. Lee May, who heads the DeKalb Christian Pastors Alliance. “For band aids, I think they did a good job. But it is a temporary resolution.”
The hospital has been run by Wellstar since 2016, and its 24-hour emergency room is staffed to handle comprehensive treatment for heart attacks, strokes, gunshot victims and other serious conditions. For the past few days, the sole survivor of an Aug. 22 triple shooting in Midtown Atlanta has taken care of the facility. When the closing was announced two weeks ago, Wellstar said the Atlanta Medical Center had been operating “for several years” at a “significant loss.” Last year, the facility lost more than $100 million. Wellstar declined further comment when contacted by Bloomberg.
“It’s not just about Wellstar and Atlanta,” said Bishop Reginald T. Jackson, who presides over more than 500 African Methodist Episcopal churches in Georgia. “This issue is a statewide problem.”
Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens wrote a letter on Sept. 9 to Wellstar CEO Candice Saunders, saying the closure “will have the most negative impact on low-income populations in the metro Atlanta community.” Dickens said the company’s earlier closing of a medical center in south Atlanta hurt the surrounding population.
If Wellstar goes ahead with closing Atlanta Medical in November “this will be one of the biggest crime scenes in the history of Georgia,” said Jones, of Concerned Black Clergy Atlanta. He spoke a few hundred yards from where helicopters land to rush patients into the hospital’s emergency room.
One employee of the medical center, Johnnie Jones, said that she has spent 11 years as a care provider in general surgery, and that the hospital provided good treatment for her dying mother, and that it has been a lifesaver for a community that desperately needs it.
“Look across the street, there are homeless men with flies flying around them,” she said. “Look down the street, there are homeless women down there with no clothes on. This is more than closing this hospital. This is my home.”
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