The old man made his way down the sidewalk and over to the 809 bus stop at the corner of East Avenue and Boulevard. MARTA is how he gets to the hospital and how he would get home on this warm Thursday afternoon. Anthony Ford, 66, was at Atlanta Medical Center for his semi-monthly checkup. The hospital is due to close in a few months and Ford isn’t sure what he’s going to do when it does.
Atlanta Medical Center is near his home and when he feels up to it he walks to his appointments. Ford isn’t looking forward to the impending closure and a different bus route to another hospital in another neighborhood. “I don’t feel good about it closing because it’s in the neighborhood,” Ford said. “Grady [Hospital] is Ok, but I like it here because it’s close.”
Wellstar Health System, which owns and operates Atlanta Medical Center, recently announced that there are plans to close the hospital, a 120-year-old, 460-bed facility on Parkway Drive in the Old Fourth Ward neighborhood. The accessibility for area residents and many others allows for easier access to an emergency room and doctor visits similar to the way Grady Hospital is for residents of downtown.
In a statement regarding the closure Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens said, “This decision will have deep and reverberating consequences for the half a million residents of Atlanta.”
Atlanta Medical Center is one of two Level 1 trauma centers in Atlanta, along with Grady. Wellstar plans to gradually reduce the hospital’s functions, according to reports. A tentative date for closure is November 1, according to multiple reports. The reduction of those services will have an effect on many, but the biggest impact will not be on the doctors, nurses, hospital administrators and staff; it will be on the people that count on Atlanta Medical Center for care.
“I don’t think they should be closing it because you’re taking away from people that don’t have money to travel to Buckhead and Druid Hills for care,” said Gwendolyn Fears.
Fears, 65, is another patient at Atlanta Medical Center and doesn’t have the kind of insurance that will allow her to switch over to other hospitals in the area. She doesn’t drive and lives on a MARTA line, so Atlanta Medical Center has always been her default option for medical care. The day she talked to The Atlanta Voice for this story she was wearing a knee brace and had seen her doctor about the knee. “The community needs those hospitals and the people that work here need their jobs,” she said.
The hospital employs close to 3,000 workers.
Politics as usual
The impending closure of Atlanta Medical Center has become a political issue with gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams blaming Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, in part because of Kemp’s lack of movement on Medicaid expansion.
At a press conference held on the hospital grounds Friday, Abrams, who made a point to say that half of the state’s population lives in the Metro Atlanta area, said, “If this hospital, when this hospital closes the people of Georgia are going to once again lose the opportunity for health care, the opportunity for jobs and the opportunity for survival.”
Abrams was surrounded by local politicians and healthcare workers from the hospital. As of the publishing of this story Governor Kemp had yet to make an appearance at Atlanta Medical Center but his office has commented that the decision to close belongs to Wellstar. The Atlanta-based health care system has been public about the lack of Medicaid expansion not being a reason the hospital is on the chopping block.
Wellstar reported that the hospital lost $107 million last year and continues to lose money while the hospital remains open.
Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens has called a meeting with Wellstar and Atlanta Medical Center leadership in order to get clarity or potentially find a solution that does not include closing the facility.
‘That’s the name of that tune’
Old Fourth Ward resident and Atlanta Medical Center patient Roland Young has come to grips with the fact that there is little he can do about the center closing. “That’s the name of that tune,” he said while leaving a doctor’s appointment Thursday afternoon. “You accept the things that come to you, and the things you can’t change you leave up to God.”
Young, 76, lives just a few blocks away and walks to his appointments at Atlanta Medical Center. “I’d hate to lose [it], because that means I’m going to have to go to Grady or Emory.”
At his age those appointments won’t be within walking distance. After talking to The Atlanta Voice for this story, Young walked south on Boulevard in order to get to a local community center that serves lunch most afternoons. “If I hurry up I cam make it in time,” he said with a smile. Lunch service ended at 1 p.m. and Young had more than an hour to spare and was just a few blocks away.