Atlanta hospital closure probe requested by Georgia Democrats

ATLANTA (AP) — Democratic Georgia lawmakers, local officials and the NAACP are calling on federal officials to investigate a health care system that has closed hospitals in downtown Atlanta and a southern suburb, alleging the Wellstar health care system has black people illegally discriminated against and violated his tax obligations. exception status.

State Senator Nan Orrock, a Democrat from Atlanta, said Wednesday that she and others filed complaints with the IRS and the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Civil Rights on Tuesday.

“WellStar should be held accountable,” Orrock said at a news conference at the Georgia Capitol. “Wellstar should be required to repair the damage it has caused to this long-established system of care for the individuals who were formerly cared for by these facilities.”

Wellstar, based in the Marietta suburb, last November closed the 450-bed Atlanta Medical Center, a vital healthcare provider for many low-income residents, just months after closing the smaller Atlanta Medical Center South in East Point. Wellstar had operated both hospitals since 2016 after buying them and others from for-profit operator Tenet Healthcare Corp. had bought.

An email was sent to a Wellstar spokesperson for comment. When the system closed hospitals, it said it spent more than $350 million covering losses and making improvements at Atlanta Medical Center and lost $100 million in the year before the closure. Wellstar said at the time that it had tried in vain to find governments or others to help with sustainable solutions.

But local officials, including Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens, angrily responded that Wellstar hadn’t given them a notification or a chance to help. State and county officials are pumping money into Grady Memorial Hospital — a public safety net hospital just blocks from Atlanta Medical Center — to try to fill the gap. The closure of the medical center meant the loss of the city’s only other emergency room besides Grady, which has a high-level trauma determination and an obstetrics department where many babies were born.

Now the officials want to ask Wellstar to pay legally and financially. Orrock said the nonprofit should make a payment similar to the more than $100 million in stock made by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia after a 1998 litigation over conversion to for-profit status establishing the Healthcare Georgia Foundation .

“Wellstar knew what they were doing when they took their resources, left without looking back and laughed the whole way,” said Assemblyman Kim Schofield, a Democrat from Atlanta. “It’s disgusting, disrespectful and I will send a message with all my colleagues that it will not be tolerated.”

The complaint to the IRS alleges that while Wellstar conducted a required study of community health care needs under the Nonprofit Hospital Rules, it did not implement a strategy to meet those needs. Orrock and others cite a 2021 letter from the Atlanta Medical Center Advisory Board that said management had proposed and discarded a number of “opaque” and “vague” plans to improve operations and finances, resulting in a ” long-term lack of vision and clear direction”.

The complaint to Health and Human Services alleges that Wellstar violated federal law by closing two hospitals that served primarily black populations while continuing to operate hospitals that served wealthier, whiter people.

“What we are talking about is nothing more and nothing less than Wellstar’s healthcare redlining,” said Robb Pitts, chairman of the Fulton County Commission on the color and size of bank accounts in the zip codes in which they are located.

Pitts noted that Wellstar has not only closed the hospitals, but also closed or relocated doctor’s offices, meaning patients now have to travel long distances if they want to keep their old doctors.

“Like bandits, they swept up everything that comes with the hospitals — the clinics, GPs, the specialists, cardiologists, those who treat diabetes, high blood pressure, whatever — packed them up and took them all away. ‘ said Pitts. “They have literally created a health desert in central and southern Fulton County.”

Opponents are also targeting Wellstar’s negotiations to purchase Augusta University Health System, which operates two hospitals in Augusta. They particularly criticized Wellstar’s acquisition of the rights to build a hospital in the predominantly white Columbia County suburbs of Augusta and the $105 million the state is providing to purchase a new electronic medical record system for the university’s Medical College of Georgia which Wellstar would benefit from .

“You don’t go and get the budget for a hospital over in Columbia County and turn your back,” Orrock said.


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