Sunday, April 14, 2024

NC trend: Atrium Health stokes the construction market

Wake Forest School of Medicine plans to open its Charlotte campus next year. A rendering depicts the new site, which will complement the Winston-Salem-based school that dates to 1902.

Atrium Health is in the midst of a capital investment explosion that is unprecedented in the history of North Carolina’s hospital industry. 

The Charlotte-based health care system has committed $2.2 billion to projects in the Charlotte and Winston-Salem areas over the past few years. The not-for-profit authority is working on four major projects simultaneously.

$900 million for a 12-story, 448-bed hospital tower at its Carolinas Medical Center campus in Charlotte’s Dilworth neighborhood. By 2027, the 1.1 million-square-foot building is expected to add a net 191 beds. The existing center now has 868 beds licensed by the state.

$425 million for the new medical school building, less than a mile from the new hospital tower. Atrium and Wake Forest School of Medicine are building the roughly 300,000 square foot Howard R. Levine Center for Education and a 331,000 square-foot research building tower  that will be the centerpiece of the 20-acre, $1.5 billion “Pearl” innovation district. Other announced tenants include Wake Forest University School of Business, Wake Forest School for Professional Studies and Carolinas College of Health Sciences. 

$450 million for an eight-story tower at the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center campus in Winston-Salem, slated to be completed in 2024. It’s the first major investment in the Triad since Wake Forest Baptist joined Atrium in a 2020 combination.

$228 million for the 30-bed Atrium Health Lake Norman, in Cornelius in north Mecklenburg County. Atrium broke ground on the project in May. The hospital is expected to employ 280 when it opens in 2025.

Those projects follow two other major Atrium projects to open in the past two years: 

The reported $100 million David L. Conlan Center at Atrium Health’s Carolina Medical Center, which opened in January on the site of the former rehabilitation center and a parking lot. It’s named after Conlan, a business partner of Charlotte real estate developer Howard “Smoky” Bissell and his wife, Margaret, who donated $30 million for the project. Bissell sold Ballantyne Corporate Park to Northwood Investors for more than $1 billion in 2017. 

The $150 million-plus Atrium Health Union West, a 40-bed site that opened in February 2022, marking the first Atrium hospital to open in more than 30 years. It is serving fast-growing parts of east Mecklenburg and west Union counties.

Atrium, the state’s largest private employers, is spreading the work among various contractors. Redwood City, California-based DPR Construction and Charlotte-based Rodgers Construction are general contractors for the Dilworth project. The building at Charlotte’s Carolinas Medical Center will include 38 operating rooms and a 62-room emergency department.

Baltimore-based Whiting-Turner Contracting, in partnership with Charlotte-based R.J. Leeper Construction, is leading the medical school building construction. The medical school building is part of a partnership between Atrium, Wake Forest and Baltimore-based Wexford Science and Technology to develop a research district aimed at making Charlotte a leader in medical innovation, Atrium CEO Gene Woods says. Wexford has been part of the Winston-Salem Innovation Quarter development for many years, in partnership with Wake Forest Baptist Health. Wake Forest’s medical school will start training students at the site next year. 

DPR Construction and Rodgers Builders also partnered on the rehabilitation center in Charlotte. It’s a 150,000-square-foot building that includes an outpatient clinic, aquatic therapy program and a center  to help patients relearn activities for daily life.

To build its Winston-Salem tower, Atrium tapped Birmingham, Alabama-based Brasfield & Gorrie and Blum Construction, based in Winston-Salem, to lead the construction. It will include an upgraded emergency department, operating rooms and enhanced intensive care units. Brasfield & Gorrie also was the general contractor for Atrium Health Union West. Kansas City, Missouri-based JE Dunn partnered with Charlotte-based McFarland Construction as general contractor for the Lake Norman hospital.

Atrium is investing millions of dollars in other projects at its 67 hospitals. In early August, state regulators approved its plan for a $246.5 million, 36-bed hospital in north Greensboro. It’s on hold pending an appeal from rival Cone Health, which  dominates the Guilford County hospital market.  Winston-Salem-based Novant Health also opposed Atrium’s plans. 

Atrium Health can make such investments because of a strong financial status, which draws top investment-grade reviews from the major rating agencies. Its combination last December with Downers Grove, Illinois-based Advocate Aurora Health created the third-largest nonprofit health system in the U.S. with annual revenue of $28  billion and reserves of more than $12 billion. The combined Charlotte-based company, which is called Advocate Health, employs more than 150,000 people.

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