The East Point clinic that is closing is all that remains of Wellstar’s former hospital there, Atlanta-Medical Center-South. Wellstar shut down AMC-South in 2022, leaving no emergency room in Fulton County south of I-20. That was months before Wellstar made national news shutting down the main AMC hospital in downtown Atlanta.
ExploreEARLIER IN THE AJC: Loss of hospital services in south Fulton could have broad impact
Both Wellstar and Southside Medical Center said the East Point deal would help patients who need ongoing non-emergency care.
In a joint statement, they said that Southside, a Federally Qualified Health Center, or FQHC, will give better care to the poor and uninsured because it can become a patient’s health care home. Patients can go there for vaccinations and regular visits to prevent problems, rather than just showing up when a problem arises.
FQHC’s get part of their money from federal grants. Unlike most for-profit urgent care clinics, FQHC’s often treat people who have no insurance.
Wellstar said patients at Southside can receive more services, such as primary care, pediatric care, dental care, OB/GYN services and immunizations, and mental health care services virtually.
However, FQHC’s are clinics, not specialty centers or surgery centers. A patient may learn what their problem is but might not be able to fix it there.
Wellstar pointed out that the majority of patients who went to the AMC-South hospital as well as those who went to its clinic needed primary care, not emergency care. The CEO of Southside said that’s exactly what Southside is for, and Wellstar’s $5 million is helping provide more of it.
Credit: Miguel Martinez
Credit: Miguel Martinez
“The Atlanta and East Point communities have a critical need for preventive and primary healthcare services, especially those focused on treating chronic illnesses,” Dr. David Williams, CEO of Southside, said in an opinion editorial submitted to the AJC. Especially for patients who lack the insurance they need, Williams said, federally aided clinics like Southside “are uniquely designed to meet these needs.”
As Wellstar worked to shift patients to Southside, it has seen the Wellstar clinic’s patient volume decrease from 80 per day to about 28 per day, Wellstar said in its written statement. The Southside clinic will increase its hours to accommodate the added volume.
The clinics serve an area deeply in need of health care resources. Companies that run hospitals and clinics are attracted to areas with high-income workers with health insurance that pay larger amounts for health services. That’s not East Point.
A report produced by Morehouse and consultants Ernst & Young in partnership with Fulton County found that Southern Fulton has no specialists in cardiology, pulmonology or infectious diseases; no doctors that care for patients with heart disease, respiratory diseases and HIV and AIDS, all of which are conditions that heavily affect the people living in the community of 234,000 residents.
Fulton County commissioners have called for an investigation of AMC’s owner, Wellstar Health System, for “redlining” or closing hospitals in majority black and poor areas, and have discussed the need to act quickly to address the lack of health care access in south Fulton.
An analysis by the AJC showed that when AMC-South closed, the population that was removed from being 15 minutes away from an emergency room was overwhelmingly people with a lower than average income. The population no longer within 15 minutes of an emergency room, the AJC found, was 88.7% Black.
Kierra Stanford, a health care activist, is one of them. She lives near the border between College Park and East Point.
She’s not swayed by the argument that the Southside clinic was a good solution.
“I think that that is extremely unacceptable from Wellstar,” Stanford said. She wished there was some kind of communication with the community beyond the legal 30-day notice just now issued. She also wants to know what’s going to happen with the property.
Wellstar in a statement said that it was in a “thoughtful” process about what to do with the soon-to-be-empty AMC-South property, including discussions with Southside.
Asked if there was a specific timeline on when plans would be made for the future of the site, Wellstar did not provide one.
Digital Storytelling Editor Charles Minshew provided data analysis for this story.