Jackie Anderson sat in the waiting room at Wellstar Family Practice on Cleveland Avenue, frustrated that her primary care office would be closing. Just next door was the old hospital, Atlanta Medical Center South, where she worked for more than 30 years.
When Wellstar Health System closed AMC South’s emergency department in May, Anderson lost her job. Now, the south Fulton resident is losing her doctor. She says her trust in Wellstar is gone completely, and she worries about the residents in her neighborhood, especially seniors.
“I see a lot of older people in this area that used to bring themselves to the doctor because it was up the street,” she said. “Now, if they gotta go downtown, it’s completely different.”
Earlier this week, Wellstar announced a partnership with Southside Medical Center to bring more primary care access to thousands of residents in the area. Wellstar says they’ll invest $5 million to start the partnership to expand the Southside Medical Center clinic’s size, capacity and hours. The building is adjacent to the AMC South building, now called Wellstar East Point Health Center.
The partnership comes after the announcement that 15 Wellstar offices under Atlanta Medical Center’s umbrella will either close or relocate to Cobb County by Nov. 18. Many of the closures are near the predominantly Black Tri-Cities area, which encompasses East Point, College Park, and Hapeville. Those closures, along with the plans to relocate some practices to north of Downtown, have alarmed residents, with community members even launching a petition, asking Wellstar to reconsider its decision.
Care in south Fulton, residents say, has dwindled in the last few decades. Before Wellstar acquired AMC South, Tenet closed the women’s program there and laid off 80 employees. Included in the women’s program was the hospital’s maternity ward, the neonatal unit, and the mother and baby rooms. In 2009, Southwest Atlanta Hospital closed its doors after its ownership said it couldn’t secure funding to continue operations.
When AMC South’s ER closed, residents told Capital B Atlanta they were worried about the already stark life expectancy differences between north and south Fulton being exacerbated.
Reshard Snellings is a south Fulton resident whose primary care physician is also located at the Cleveland Avenue office. In his nearly five years in the area, he says care options are becoming more limited.
“Health care in south Fulton … it belongs in a museum because we used to have it, but we don’t anymore,” he said.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people who live in the southern part of Fulton County can expect to live up to nine years less than people living in the northern, more affluent areas. In East Point, 17% of residents under 65 don’t have health insurance.
The partnership with Southside Medical Center doesn’t do much to ease community concerns, according to East Point City Councilman Lance Robertson.
“I think it’s a great first step to repair the insensitive previous announcement,” he said, alluding back to news of the forthcoming medical office closures. “I think it’s too little too late. I am so happy that the partnership will focus on local health care for our residents, but I do believe that Wellstar has yet to come up with a long-term solution.”
As for Anderson, she is concerned about Wellstar potentially closing more facilities in metro Atlanta and the even bigger void being left in her community.
“Look how far people have to go,” Anderson said. “Any level of health care to stabilize someone if they’re bad off is better than nothing at all. There’s nothing in this area.”