Atrium Health's Carolinas Medical Center: Where it All Began

04.04.2019 Atrium Health News | CMC News

Atrium Health’s largest hospital isn’t changing its name. Carolinas Medical Center’s signage is just being updated as part of the rebrand to Atrium Health. 

Despite being referred as Atrium Health’s Carolinas Medical Center, it’s doubtful that local residents will stop using the shorthand term – “CMC” – that is so well known. After all, people have had nearly three decades to adopt that terminology, ever since Charlotte Memorial Hospital changed its name to Carolinas Medical Center in 1990. 

The 1990 name change coincided with an important milestone in CMC’s history, its official designation as an “Academic Medical Center Teaching Hospital.” Only five hospitals in North Carolina had earned this particular distinction, which recognized steady growth in the number and quality of educational programs since Charlotte Memorial first opened its doors in 1940.

Actually, to be fully complete, any review of “name changes” at CMC needs to reach further back than 1940. This is because of the way CMC’s predecessor facilities evolved over the years, beginning way back in 1876 (the year that Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone). 

In that year, the women of St. Peter’s Protestant Episcopal Church combined energies to open the state’s first civilian hospital, called Charlotte Home and Hospital. Located in the neighborhood now known as Fourth Ward, the hospital was led by a woman named Jane Wilkes, whose statue can be seen in the healing garden adjacent to Atrium Health's Levine Cancer Institute. 

Charlotte Home and Hospital later changed its name to St. Peter’s Hospital, which continued to operate through the fall of 1940, when its patients transferred to Charlotte Memorial Hospital. (The St. Peter’s legacy is still honored by the placement of its altar, wooden paneling and stained-glass windows inside CMC’s current chapel.)

Charlotte Memorial Hospital’s opening in 1940 was obviously an important landmark in local healthcare history. Unfortunately, however, the new hospital suffered early on from financial and governance problems. In response, an influential business leader named Rush S. Dickson – the man for whom CMC’s Dickson Tower is named – stepped up to assist.

Dickson lobbied city and county officials for more generous subsidies. He also collaborated with other civic leaders to resolve the problem of who really “owned” the hospital. As a result of this advocacy, the State acted in 1943 to form the “Charlotte Memorial Hospital Authority of Charlotte, North Carolina,” a name later changed (in 1961) to The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Hospital Authority. The hospital’s new legal status provided a better framework for constructing new facilities, providing indigent care and managing day-to-day operations. 

In later years, the hospital fulfilled an important role in desegregation by accepting operational responsibility for Good Samaritan Hospital. At that time, 1960, Good Samaritan was the only regional hospital that admitted racial minority patients for treatments other than emergencies. 

At the request of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina, which had operated Good Samaritan, the Hospital Authority bought, renovated and expanded Good Samaritan, which was located on the site where Bank of America Stadium now sits. (Good Samaritan eventually closed, years later, as segregation ended and patients were absorbed into other healthcare facilities.)

David Carl, Atrium Health’s executive director of spiritual care and education, remembers 1982 as another key date in Charlotte Memorial’s history. That’s the year the hospital adopted its now-familiar Tree of Life logo. The logo has undergone different design treatments over the years. What has not changed, Carl says, is the logo’s function as a symbol of hope and rejuvenation, with roots dating back to Biblical and ancient religious times. “Each branch on the logo,” he says, “represents an important spiritual principle, including courage, wisdom, kindness, humility, gentleness, loyalty, prudence, generosity and justice.” 

Carl, now in his 30th year at CMC, says one constant throughout his tenure has been caregivers’ ability to keep these spiritual principles in mind – and put them into practice – in their daily interactions with patients. 

Asked what has changed the most over 30 years, he points to a steady transformation in industry perceptions about the health needs of caregivers themselves. “When it comes to caring for patients,” he says, “we’ve long recognized the need to address the emotional and spiritual components of health, as well as the physical.

“What we’re seeing now, and it’s truly significant, is a heavier emphasis on the importance of self-care by our providers. We’ve come to realize that the spiritual principles embodied in the Tree of Life are not simply for patients; they’re for caregivers as well. It’s a win-win, because you can’t give 100 percent to others if you’re not feeling 100 percent yourself.”

While he’s pleased to see these kinds of changes in the way healthcare is administered, Carl notes that any true accounting of CMC history needs to recognize the momentous growth that has occurred in CMC’s physical facilities and service offerings as well. “The enhancements recognized by the hospital’s name change in 1990 were nothing short of remarkable,” he says, “and since then, CMC has never slowed down in its efforts to ensure that people in this region can stay close to home for even the most highly specialized of treatments.” 

Chris Bowe, vice president and Chief Operating Officer of the Central Division since June 2017, calls Atrium Health’s Carolinas Medical Center one of the most impressive healthcare facilities he has ever seen. 

“The array of services here is almost limitless,” he says, “and the quality of physicians, nurses and staff is extraordinary. We have a legacy of caring and compassion whose roots can be traced back a century and a half. It would be hard to overstate how impressed I am by the people who, over such a long period of time, helped to make this medical center what it is today. At the same time, I’m absolutely inspired by the remarkable talent and dedication of the people who work here now.

“CMC’s name isn’t changing,” he adds, “Just like the excellence of care here is definitely a constant, and something in which we can all take tremendous pride.”

About Atrium Health
Atrium Health, previously Carolinas HealthCare System, one of the nation's leading and most innovative healthcare organizations, provides a full spectrum of healthcare and wellness programs throughout the Southeast region. Its diverse network of care locations includes academic medical centers, hospitals, freestanding emergency departments, physician practices, surgical and rehabilitation centers, home health agencies, nursing homes and behavioral health centers, as well as hospice and palliative care services. Atrium Health works to enhance the overall health and well-being of its communities through high-quality patient care, education and research programs, and numerous collaborative partnerships and initiatives.