SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — Georgia’s healthcare system is entering its busiest season for traumatic injuries but this year they’ll be operating with one less hospital.
WellStar’s Atlanta Medical Center (AMC) will close its doors on Nov. 1, leaving the Peach State with just four level-one facilities.
One of those is located in Savannah.
Dr. James Dunne told WSAV there’s a shortage of healthcare workers nationwide and the state is already under-served when it comes to having accessible trauma care for all Georgians.
With Memorial Health being the second busiest trauma center in the Peach State, Dunne anticipates there will likely be a trickle effect when WellStar finally closes its doors in the next few weeks.
“It’s problematic definitely, they’ll be a trickle effect almost assuredly,” Dunne said. The remaining trauma one centers are bracing for the potential influx of new patients.
“We’re one of the higher-functioning trauma centers in the state right now,” Dunne said. “We’re second only behind Grady as far as overall volume and we are close to being maxed out as well.”
With WellStar’s closure, Atlanta is left with only one top trauma center the Grady Memorial Hospital. Their ER receives about 7,000 critical patients a year with Memorial Health right behind them taking in about 4,500 patients. WellStar’s emergency room sees around 3,000 patients a year which is raising concerns about where those additional trauma victims will go.
“Everyone is operating at max capacity prior to AMC closing,” Dunne said. “So, it’s going to be challenging for the state in general to handle that increased workload. An additional 3,000 is going to strain the system for sure.”
Right now Dunne said there’s no way to know exactly how this will impact the Coastal Empire but with Macon’s medical center Navicent Health being the next closest to Grady we could see a trickle-down effect.
“If some of the AMC patients end up working their way down to Macon, the southern half of Atlanta where they may have gone to AMC but they end up going to Macon, and then the southern half of Macon’s region may end up coming to Savannah,” Dunne said.
Dunne said it’s not just about who has the resources. With trauma, it’s all about timing when it comes to saving lives.
“We always talk about the golden hour, and trying to get trauma patients to a definitive care facility trauma center within an hour to improve their outcomes,” Dunne said. “That’s going to be challenging potentially with AMC closing.”
Dunne said a swift response is only part of the problem. A nationwide shortage of nurses and space at hospitals could exacerbate this issue.
“Nursing resources are scarce all over and people are, all hospitals are challenged with staffing, opening enough beds to care for patients,” Dunne said.
Dunne said despite concerns the emergency room is still fully equipped to continue serving patients throughout the region and they’re staying alert to assess and address any future impacts of this closure.