Fulton County filing DOJ complaint over Wellstar Health System hospital shutdowns

A photograph of the now defunct Wellstar Atlanta Medical Center in Atlanta. The Wellstar system announced on Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2022, that it would take over the Augusta University Health System after closing the money losing Atlanta hospital in November, prompting intense criticism. (John Spink/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

The Fulton County Commission is asking the United States Department of Justice to investigate Wellstar Health System’s recent closures of two Atlanta-area hospitals that were located in majority-Black areas.

It’s the third request for a federal complaint against Wellstar in a week.

Last week, a coalition of Democratic state lawmakers and Fulton and Dekalb officials announced they were asking for investigations by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights and the Internal Revenue Service.

Now, Fulton County commissioners on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved a resolution allowing the county attorney to file a complaint with the Department of Justice.

This one will go directly to the Department of Justice, which has more teeth. It has a serious, strong enforcement division,” said Chairman Robert Pitts.

He said the hospital closures amount to a violation of civil rights by Wellstar in Atlanta.

“It’s created a healthcare desert in Central and South Fulton County. And number two, it is a classic example of healthcare redlining.”

Wellstar has continued to expand outside the city, including in Augusta, where it recently announced intentions to merge with Augusta University Health System.

Wellstar officials denied the allegations in Fulton County’s resolution in two separate statements.

Citing financial losses last year of more than $1 billion in uncompensated and charity care, the company called the federal complaints an effort to “score cheap political points.”

 “We must set the record straight about why Wellstar had to close AMC and why we are exploring options in Augusta. We spent more than two years trying to do so. In fact, our efforts to find another health system partner and work with government officials to find a solution started well before our decision was announced to close AMC in 2022. This included direct discussions with policymakers in Fulton County, including Chairman Pitts, as early as February 2020. Unfortunately, local policymakers declined to provide any support to AMC as they rightly have and do with the other safety net hospital in Atlanta,” Wellstar’s statement reads.

The resolution passed with one no vote from District 1 Commissioner Bridget Thorne.