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DeKalb CEO proposes $20 million plan to support Emory Hillandale, Grady hospitals

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DeKalb CEO proposes $20 million plan to support Emory Hillandale, Grady hospitals

DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond. Photo by Dean Hesse.

This story has been updated. 

DeKalb County, GA — Amid the closure of the Wellstar Atlanta Medical Center, DeKalb County Chief Executive Officer Michael Thurmond has proposed a $20 million plan to support the Emory Hillandale and Grady hospitals.

“We are all aware of the extreme challenges that we’ll now face with our healthcare network in metro Atlanta as a result of Wellstar AMC deciding to withdraw from this location in downtown Atlanta,” Thurmond said during the DeKalb Committee of the Whole meeting on Oct. 4. “This has major, major implications in terms of impacting the quality of care for residents of DeKalb, Atlanta and throughout the state of Georgia.”

Wellstar announced in early September that the Atlanta Medical Center will close on Nov. 1 and will gradually slow down operations as that date approaches. 

Wellstar announced last week that the AMC’s emergency department will close in two weeks, on Oct. 14 and the hospital moved to total diversion beginning on Oct. 3, according to WSB

The CEO’s plan includes $8 million to address Grady Hospital’s operating deficit. This investment will be in addition to funding the county appropriated in the 2022 fiscal year.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which first broke the story that AMC would close, reported that state officials are considering giving Grady a “one-time aid package” worth almost $200 million to help it deal with the extra patients the closure of AMC would send the hospital’s way. The AJC reported that could provide 200 additional beds at Grady. AMC has 460 beds, the AJC reported. To read that story, click here.

“We’re committed to doing everything we can to help them achieve that goal,” Thurmond said. “In the short term, obviously, some steps need to be taken and must be taken.” 

The request also includes $1.1 million to create a trauma recovery team and $4.7 million to expand the emergency waiting room by up to 15 emergency room bays.

Rashard Johnson is the CEO of Emory Decatur Hospital, Emory Hillandale Hospital and Emory Long-Term Acute Care. He said that within DeKalb County, the hospitals see over 120,000 emergency visits, “so that need is critical for us to expand that.”

The Hillandale Trauma Recovery Center will be a hospital-based violence prevention program of 10 specialists, including psychologists, outreach workers, and behavioral health specialists, who are devoted to violence prevention and trauma recovery. The center’s mission will be to enable individuals who have experienced trauma to rebuild, restore and strengthen their sense of safety and interrupt the cycle of violence.

Emory Hillandale is also expected to receive $4.5 million to renovate the intensive care unit, and $1.7 million to replace the CT scanner.

Thurmond additionally proposed a $250,000 grant to a nonprofit that will work to inform and encourage eligible uninsured residents to register for the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid or other subsidized insurance coverages.

The majority of Emory Hillandale Hospital’s uninsured emergency room patients live within a 10-mile radius of the hospital.

If approved, the CEO’s funding request for Emory Hillandale Hospital will mitigate the loss of emergency room beds due to the pending closure of Wellstar AMC. The closure is expected to increase emergency department and inpatient flows to Metro Atlanta hospitals, according to a press release.

“This innovative partnership with Emory Hillandale Hospital will help fill the emergency response healthcare gap while long-term solutions are being developed and implemented,” Thurmond said in a press release. “This plan will also increase the number of DeKalb residents eligible but not registered for medical coverage under federal and state health insurance programs and reduce the number of DeKalb gun violence victims residents requiring Level 1 trauma care treatment at Grady.”

Enhanced emergency department services at Emory Hillandale Hospital will also strengthen the healthcare network throughout metro Atlanta’s eastern corridor and reduce non-Level 1 patient flow to Grady, north Georgia’s only remaining Level 1 trauma care provider.

The additional appropriations to Emory Hillandale and Grady Hospitals would be funded by American Rescue Plan and county general funds.

During the meeting with the county commissioners, staff from Emory Healthcare presented their plan. Emory Healthcare has 11 hospitals in metro Atlanta and over half of their beds are in DeKalb County, Dane Peterson, Interim CEO of Emory Healthcare said. 

Dr. Bryce Gartland, hospital group president, added that Emory Healthcare anticipates its hospitals will see about 40% of Wellstar AMC emergency room volumes. 

“What does that equate to from an Emory side? That’s around 16,500 to 20,000 ER visits, upwards of 2,000 inpatient hospitalizations and an average daily census of 30 to 35 patients. We also think that there’s a risk point of needing to have surge volume…,” Gartland said. 

The hospitals get seasonal surges and there’s still risk around COVID-19 and the potential to respond. 

“We could anticipate that there may be need to surge up to 50% of Wellstar AMC’s volumes,” Gartland said. “In terms of our facilities, we anticipate our hospitals in proximity being the most impacted, that being Emory University Hospital, Midtown, Decatur and Hillandale. There’s actually a lot of volume that comes from the Hillandale location, as well as Emory University Hospital.”

The county Board of Commissioners did not take formal action on the proposal during their meeting on Oct. 4. 

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