Wellstar Atlanta Medical center BS10

Atlanta Business Chronicle, Sep 7, 2023

Atlanta City Councilmember Keisha Sean Waites introduced a resolution this week calling on the Atlanta mayor to acquire the Wellstar Atlanta Medical Center property. The resolution proposes for the campus to be developed into a center for equity named after late U.S. Congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis.

Wellstar closed the Atlanta Medical Center hospital last November, taking away one of the city’s only two Level 1 trauma centers. The Marietta-based nonprofit hospital system said that the costs of running the hospital made continuing to operate the hospital financially impossible. The AMC closure received widespread criticism from the community and has increased wait times at other local hospitals, leaders testified earlier this year.

The City of Atlanta last year imposed a six-month moratorium on redevelopment of the 25-acre Atlanta Medical Center site on Boulevard in the Old Fourth Ward and extended the moratorium in April. That moratorium is now set to expire next month.

Waites’ resolution is one proposal among several to repurpose the campus to help Atlantans needing help with housing and mental health issues.

Last year, Councilmembers Julian Bond and Mary Norwood proposed creating a study committee to consider repurposing the site as a “center for equity.” That proposal appears to have been on hold in the council’s Community Development/Human Services committee.

Waites’ resolution has also been referred to the Community Development/Human Services Committee, which is scheduled to meet Sept. 12. She said she will push for the committee to vote on the resolution then so that it can next be considered by the full city council.

The proposed Downtown equity center

The proposed John Lewis Center for Equity would include a health clinic, over 100 hotel-style, short-term emergency housing rooms, an innovative warrant clearing center, a mini-courtroom, alternative diversion services, transitional housing, onsite space for service providers, mental health services, and drug and alcohol treatment, according to a press release Waites provided to the Atlanta Business Chronicle.

“I believe the Wellstar property is perfectly suited for what we’re trying to accomplish,” Waites said.

Waites told the Chronicle the current resolution is a revision of an earlier resolution she proposed last year calling on the city to convert its Atlanta City Detention Center into an equity center. The lease on the detention city made that proposal an impossibility for now, so she has revised that resolution to focus on the AMC site.

“My feeling is there’s an urgency there and so we cannot continue to wait,” Waites said.

Wellstar: No plans yet for AMC

Waites estimates the cost to repurpose the property as an equity center would be around $100 million, which she hoped to raise from City of Atlanta, Fulton County and state and private philanthropic funds in a public-private partnership.

Waites hopes Wellstar donates the property.

The health care system said in a statement to the Chronicle that it is still determining “the best use for the future of these sites.”

“We continue to talk with members of the community and evaluate potential solutions. We do not currently have plans for the sites and we are hopeful for a solution that benefits the community,” the statement reads.

Waites said she spoke to Wellstar representatives about the proposal last year. She said she initially planned to wait until after the city’s moratorium on redevelopment on the property ended to move forward with a specific plan.

Now, she wants to move ahead with finding solutions to the city’s homelessness and mental health problems. She said the center would address the problem of incarcerating people with mental illness and some of the challenges around housing affordability.

“For those who say not in my backyard, the thought process is: ‘What better way to help people become productive in society and make contributions meaningfully to our city than to have all the wraparound resources needed in one facility?’” Waites said.

Criticism for Wellstar

Wellstar faced widespread criticism from local and state politicians over the closure of AMC.

That closure came on the heels of the shuttering of a sister hospital in East Point in May 2022. Wellstar now operates an urgent care clinic at the Cleveland Avenue facility. That closure left the area between Downtown Atlanta and Riverdale with one hospital, Southern Regional Medical Center in Riverdale.

State legislators and Atlanta political leaders last March filed two complaints with the federal government. One alleged racial discrimination on the part of the hospital and claimed the Atlanta hospital violated the 1964 Civil Rights Act. A second asked the Internal Revenue Service to investigate Wellstar’s tax exempt status.

Some politicians contend that the health system should have found a better solution to its AMC problems. They pointed out that its recently cemented takeover of the Augusta University Health System indicates the hospital system is not short of cash.

That partnership allows Wellstar to operate the 632-bed Augusta University Medical Center and health care facilities in Richmond County. The agreement includes a promise from Wellstar to provide $797 million worth of community benefits over 10 years, according to the report from the attorney general’s office. Wellstar would build a 100-bed hospital in neighboring Columbia County.

Earlier this year, Wellstar announced that it would create a $100 million venture fund. The Chronicle reported in May that Wellstar plans to open an “innovation center” for the venture fund in Midtown.