Critics call for more Level 1 trauma centers in metro Atlanta to handle mass casualty events

ATLANTA — A mass shooting killed one woman and injured four others in midtown Atlanta recently.

With mass casualty events tragically becoming more commonplace, could our hospitals handle one with even more patients?

Channel 2′s Tom Regan examines why some critics say the metro area is lacking medical resources to handle a major emergency involving multiple deaths and injuries.

Metro Atlanta has a population of 6 million. But there are only two Level 1 trauma hospitals. That’s less than other cities comparable in size.

People who survived a mass casualty event say there needs to be more to help others survive.

When a shooter opened fire inside Northside Medical Midtown killing one woman and wounding four others on May 3, ambulances rushed the survivors to Grady Memorial Hospital.

“We were anticipating up to 12 patients. Fortunately, we only received four,” said Dr. Robert Jansen, Chief Medical Officer at Grady Memorial Hospital. “But we were completely prepared for that. We had all the staff that we needed.”

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Grady is one of only two Level 1 trauma centers in the metro area. Macon and Augusta are the only other two in the state.

Nell Jones said that’s not enough.

“There’s no question. That’s not enough. That’s not enough. Look at how many people are being mowed down by automatic weapons,” Jones said.

She narrowly survived when failed stock day trader Mark Barton went on a rampage shooting 22 people at two offices in Buckhead in 1999. Nine of those were killed.

Jones told Regan that she vividly remembers Barton pointing two pistols at her.

“The bullet from the right gun went right in front of my forehead and broke the glass in my monitor,” Jones said.

Jones is among those who believe metro Atlanta is lacking resources to handle major mass casualty events.

“Local hospitals, they don’t have enough beds to handle the people they have now. Where would they put all these people? It’s totally inadequate,” Jones said.

Grady is among the top Level 1 trauma hospitals in the country. It conducts regular mass casualty drills.

Last fall, Grady put those skills to the test during a night of multi-shootings.


“They didn’t come in all at one time, but over a period of 8-10 hours, we had 27 patients come in with gunshot wounds,” Jansen said. “The challenge isn’t just the number of patients, but the severity of the injuries, if some of them are less severe we can have them triaged to other facilities.”

Jansen said he would welcome another Level 1 trauma center in metro Atlanta. But its location must be strategically chosen.

“We have to be careful where we place it, so they have access to all the people who need them,” Jansen said.

The closure of Wellstar Atlanta Medical Center, a Level 1 trauma center, in October 2022, leaves metro Atlanta with fewer resources, said Dr. Alex Isakov with Emory University Hospital.

“Certainly, that’s going to have some impact because those are skilled surgeons and hospital beds and an emergency department and all the ancillary support services that don’t exist in downtown Atlanta today,” Isakov said.

The south side of Atlanta is perhaps most in need of more critical trauma care said doctor and State Senator Kay Kirkpatrick.

She is worried about a mass casualty event at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport -- the world’s business airport.

“I definitely think we need to develop some type of trauma hospital on the south side,” Kirkpatrick said. “I think we’d be in better shape if we had two more trauma centers.”

The Centennial Olympic Park bombing was another mass casualty event, killing a mother and injuring 100 others.

Marco Phinnizee was downtown that night. He wasn’t hurt, but it crossed his mind when he told Channel 2 Action News about the stroke he suffered in 2022 at his home in South Fulton County.

It took four hours for him to be picked up and taken to Grady for treatment.

“With a lot of things going on, and a lot of people getting shot and accidents, you know, you should have more than just Grady, you know, in the south area,” Phinnizee said.

While there is no immediate plan to build or upgrade a hospital in metro Atlanta to a Level 1 trauma center, the state is providing $130 million to Grady to expand its bed capacity.