Kevin Marshall remembers being rushed by ambulance to Atlanta Medical Center after a horrendous car accident in August.
The accident, which left his car totaled, was in North Druid Hills, and Marshall needed stitches on his legs. He thought it would have made the most sense to go to nearby DeKalb Medical Center, but the EMTs said he needed a level one trauma center. The closest one to his home is Atlanta Medical Center, which is set to close in November.
Wellstar’s move will leave Grady Memorial Hospital as the only trauma center in the city. When Marshall heard the news, the 45-year-old pharmacy technician was discouraged.
He spent some time at Grady as a pharmacy student in the early 2000s, and can remember people laying on gurneys in the hallways because there were no open rooms. Experiences like that stick with Marshall today, and, being in the industry, he’s been keeping tabs on Grady. He doubts the hospital will be able to handle the closure.
“People are going to die left and right when they close Atlanta Medical,” Marshall said. “Grady can barely handle the volume they have now.”
As Atlanta Medical Center is shutting down operations because of what they say is a lack of revenue, Grady stands to fill the gaps of losing 460 hospital beds. While many residents have faith in the city’s other level one trauma unit, they are worried AMC’s closing might increase the challenges that give Grady the reputation of constantly being at capacity.
Wellstar recently announced plans to speed up the closure of AMC’s emergency room department. The new date for that shut down is now Oct. 14, at 7 a.m. Roughly two weeks before that, on Oct. 3, AMC will go into emergency transport diversion, which means they will ask EMS partners to transport patients to other area hospitals before bringing them to AMC.
“We feel confident that Atlanta patients will continue to have access to excellent emergency services less than two miles from the AMC campus at Grady Memorial Hospital, which includes Level I trauma care, and at Emory Midtown,” Wellstar said in a statement.
‘They saved my life’
Grady is the state’s safety net hospital, which means legally, it can’t turn patients away for any type of treatment, including non-urgent care. According to a fact sheet from Grady, the majority of its patient population uses either Medicare or Medicaid, or is uninsured.
According to the Georgia Coordinating Center — an online tracking tool for EMS and hospital personnel — Grady’s emergency department was recently listed as “severely overcrowded,” and on medical diversion, which means it could no longer accept ambulance traffic.
“I think the perspective of Grady, and the perspective of hospitals in general, for a lot of Black people, is you go there to die,” said Matthew McCurdy, the co-founder of BLKHLTH, an organization seeking health equity for Black people. “Folks would just rather be sick, sadly, rather than deal with their nagging conditions, which we know only exacerbates it and makes them worse.”
Some residents see Grady as a godsend and have faith in the quality of the hospital’s care. Janet Chaney, a retired teacher from Atlanta, said she was able to get brain surgery at Grady after being turned away from a hospital she declined to name.
“They never called me back because I didn’t have enough [insurance],” she said. “I ended up at Grady, and they told me to come in two days to have my surgery, and I’m still here today.”
“I have nothing but good things to say about Grady. They saved my life.”
Monica Ponder, a professor of health communications at Howard University and an Atlanta native, says Grady should be leaning into testimonies like Chaney’s.
“We need to be messaging to people what this [closure] means and what Grady has to offer,” she said. “Grady is actually probably one of the best hospital institutions we have in the state.”
In terms of measuring care at Grady, the Lown Institute — a nonprofit organization that advocates for a just health system — ranked the hospital No. 1 in two spots: racial inclusivity and community benefit. Racial inclusivity shows that Grady scored high when it comes to providing care for lower-income patients from communities of color. Community benefit measures the extent of hospital investment in community health.
On the other hand, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services gave Grady one out of five stars, its worst rating. Those ratings are measured by the number of readmissions into the hospital, patient surveys, and timeliness and effectiveness of care.
What’s next for Grady
Locals say it’s important that whether the city, state, or federal government steps in, something needs to be done sooner than later. It’s why Atlanta resident Robin Billingslea, who’s received treatment from Grady, says she feels a lack of urgency from state leaders.
“The governor ain’t gave Grady nothing,” Billingslea said. “Grady is a good hospital. Why did it take another hospital for you to want to help Grady?”
In September, Gov. Brian Kemp announced the state would give Grady $130 million to add 185 beds to its operation next year. Carter Chapman, a spokesperson for the governor’s office, said those funds “will be awarded as a cost reimbursement methodology, so Grady will utilize their capital and will be reimbursed for eligible activities with supporting documentation and proof of payment.” Grady has not been reimbursed yet because “these steps have not yet occurred,” according to Chapman.
However, there will be a $133 million increase in funding for Grady created through a hospital-directed payment program that is aimed at improving health outcomes called Georgia’s Advancing Innovation to Deliver Equity. Under the program — which was approved by the federal government in July — Grady Memorial Hospital and Augusta University Medical Center will benefit from an increased Medicaid payment rate on services provided to qualifying members.
“The funding should already be flowing to the hospital or begin to soon as the hospital continues to serve Medicaid patients,” Chapman said.
Fulton County also approved a one-time payment of $11 million to go to Grady Memorial to help with unexpected labor increases due to AMC’s closure.
John Haupert, Grady Health System’s CEO and president, has said the hospital can “absorb all the trauma” from AMC, but warned that $130 million for additional beds, plus $22 million from DeKalb and Fulton counties, is not enough.
“We then have to be also focused on how we operate them and the cost to operate them,” Haupert told WSB. “We need significantly more than that $22 million to make sure we can properly staff and fund and operate those beds.”