East Point, Ga.- On a warm Tuesday morning a landscaper pulls dead branches and leaves out of a bush while another uses a leaf blower to clear a walkway outside of the Medical Arts Center on Cleveland Avenue. They do not approach the grounds of the Wellstar East Point Health Center, which is located next door. They will get to it later, there isn’t a priority because the medical facility is closed. Inside a trio of security guards sit behind a glass partition with no patients to direct or assist.
Wellstar Health System closed the East Point location for general patients in April 2022. What was once a 200-bed hospital became a primary care, outpatient and rehabilitation center and is now closed.
“There’s an urgent care still open down the street,” one of the security guards said.
Wellstar has made it known that finances are the reason for closing hospitals in Atlanta and East Point. Wellstar reported losses of more than $100 million per year at Atlanta Medical Center, which was located in historic Old Fourth Ward. The massive site is now vacant and will remain so as long as the redevelopment moratorium imposed by Atlanta City Council remains.
Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens extended the moratorium in October 2022. Dickens’ renewal bought time for the Atlanta City Council to ratify the moratorium if needed.
The billion-dollar health care provider recently invested $100 million into Catalyst, which is described on the Wellstar website as a “first-of-its-kind innovation company and venture firm. Wellstar plans to open an innovation center in the heart of Midtown in order to house Catalyst’s 18 or so employees. The center will be located inside the Centergy One Building on Fifth Street.
The new innovation center will be miles from where Atlanta Medical Center once stood as the city’s second most occupied level one trauma center, along with Grady Memorial Hospital.
In the fall of 2022 Wellstar Health System, which owned and operated Atlanta Medical Center, announced that there were plans to close the hospital, a 120-year-old, 460-bed facility on Parkway Drive. The accessibility for area residents and many others allowed for easier access to an emergency room if needed and regular doctor visits similar to the way Grady Hospital is for residents of downtown.
The loss of Atlanta Medical Center leaves Old Fourth Ward and neighboring areas without a hospital within a few miles. That remains a problem for a city with the level of crime and vehicular accidents as Atlanta.
East Point residents will not be left as empty-handed as Old Fourth Ward residents were when Atlanta Medical Center closed however. There are medical facilities within feet of the Wellstar East Point Health Center, particularly a Southside Medical Center location a few feet away on Cleveland Avenue.
Local attorney, activist and Georgia NAACP President Gerald A. Griggs believes Wellstar’s decision to close hospitals instead of investing in them in communities like East Point and Old Fourth Ward is a mistake.
“As the leadership of the NAACP, our primary focus is on combating racial disparities in healthcare and ensuring equitable access for all residents of metro Atlanta,” Griggs told The Atlanta Voice. “We are deeply disheartened by Wellstar’s decision not to prioritize reinvestment in essential healthcare for underserved communities.”
Griggs added that he hopes Wellstar will choose to be a valuable partner in addressing these longstanding issues by “redirecting their resources towards healthcare services rather than solely pursuing profits.
He continued, “We believe that by investing in accessible and comprehensive healthcare services, Wellstar will play a pivotal role in addressing the pressing needs of the community and advancing the cause of healthcare equality.”
Attempts to reach Wellstar Health System and Catalyst for this story were not returned.