By Donnell Suggs
The drivers in cars heading east and west down Boulevard kept beeping their horns in support of the people waving signs and chanting on the corner of East Avenue. A rally to bring more attention to the impending closure of Atlanta Medical Center, a 100-year-old Level 1 trauma center and neighborhood landmark, was taking place during a high traffic period and the noise was welcomed by the rally’s organizers.
The Atlanta branch of the Party for Socialism & Liberation held the rally with the distinct goal of getting the attention of Wellstar Health System, the owner of Atlanta Medical Center. “We’re here to demand WellStar keep Atlanta Medical Center open, it’s unacceptable to close one of the only two Level 1 trauma centers in this city,” said Nat Villasana, one of the organizers. “Wellstar has decided to put profits over people’s lives.”
Atlanta Medical Center is also a Level 1 Advance Primary Stroke Center.
Dressed in red t-shirts and waving signs that read, “Stop the closure. Keep AMC Open” and “Medicare for all,” Party for Socialism & Liberation members handed signs to members of the public that were willing to hold them high as speaker after speaker took the megaphone to speak. The group also handed out flyers and gathered signatures for a petition.
“Wellstar lied and said that they did everything in their power to keep AMC open,” Villasana said. “It was a surprise to the city and about 3,000 workers.”
All about the money
Wellstar has gone public about how much money the company is losing ($107 million last year) and its intentions to close the hospital in order to stem the fiscal bleeding. Atlanta mayor Andre Dickens, Governor Brian Kemp and hospital leadership met earlier today to discuss what was next for the staff at Atlanta Medical Center. A privately-owned business, the city and state cannot force Wellstar to keep the hospital open.
Rally supporters, see of who were medical professionals and familiar with the hospital, did not seem to understand how the situation got to this point with less than two months to go until the closing day. “It’s horrible, they never once said they were going to shut down,” said Johnnie Jones, a 20-plus-year healthcare worker and an employee at Atlanta Medical Center. “[They] thought the majority of the community was insured, but they thought wrong.” Jones is in her 11th year as a general surgery attendant and worked at Grady for 10 years before moving over to Atlanta Medical Center in order to be closer to her home.
Wellstar is making an investment in North Fulton Hospital, one of the the health systems hospitals in Alpharetta where the median household income is $119,000, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. In the Old Forth Ward neighborhood where Atlanta Medical Center is located the median household income is far less. The majority of Atlanta Medical Center’s patients – those that are not brought in following traumatic episodes like shootings and car accidents- are Black, uninsured and poor.
“My son was born here in 1975,” said Laverne Wright. “It’s awful,” she said. “This is a Black neighborhood and what if somebody gets sick, what are they going to do now?”
Ricky McElroy, a volunteer with the DeKalb County branch of the NAACP was on hand to lend support to the rally-goers. “[Wellstar] shouldn’t close the hospital because people that come here will have to find another hospital to go to in their time go need,” he said. “This is the only hospital in the area.”
Atlanta Medical Center is nearly two miles from the closest and only other Level 1 trauma center, Grady Hospital. Most of the people that utilize the hospital for care do not drive and often times use public transportation to get to and from appointments and visits. The trip to Grady from Old Fourth Ward can take up to two MARTA buses in order to complete the trip in some cases.
The chants continued: “Healthcare is a human right, fight, fight, fight.” “Healthcare is a public goof, keep AMC in the neighborhood.” Don’t close AMC, healthcare is what we need.”
Georgia Baptist Hospital
In 1974, a year before Laverne Wright’s son Quincy was born, Jo-Ellen Vereen graduated from the Georgia Baptist Hospital. The young nurse had learned a lot at the former teaching hospital. The hospital now known as Atlanta Medical Center.
Vereen and her husband, Tom Arnold, also a retired registered nurse, walked from their home to be among those who want to see Atlanta Medical Center remain open. “This hospital has been in this neighborhood for so long. It is terrible that it is closing, said Vereen, who worked at Emory Hospital for 37 years following graduation from Georgia Baptist Hospital. Arnold used to pick her up after work when she was a student nurse and they were dating. Now the old hospital was set to close for good.
A second rally to demand Atlanta Medical Center stay open will take place Friday night at Atlanta City Hall, according to Party of Socialism & Liberation organizers. The rally is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m.
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