Atrium Health University City became the hospital's official name on Dec. 1, 2018.

News | 3 months ago

A Farmland Foundation for Atrium Health University City

Change starts to feel more real when there is something physical for us to see and touch. As the signs on buildings begin to change, the evolution to Atrium Health is starting to feel more real.

Walking the halls of the hospital now called Atrium Health University City, you can see photos taken during construction in 1985. The site sat squarely in the middle of an open field at that time, with few buildings visible in the background.

Taking in that same view today, you see a hospital that has become the focal point of an incredible suburban transformation.

Tim Hall, MD, and Jennifer Wetherby, RN, have witnessed this dramatic growth from the very beginning. Dr. Hall, an emergency physician, has worked at the facility in various capacities since 1986. Wetherby took her first position there just six months after it opened. 

Wetherby attended school at a large teaching hospital, but quickly came to appreciate the benefits of a smaller facility. “All of the nurses knew one another extremely well,” she remembers. “I enjoyed being able to cross-train in other units when things were slow on my maternity floor.”  

Wetherby trained in medical-surgical nursing but was so intent on a job offer that she took the first available opening, which was in postpartum care. “My husband was working at UNC-Charlotte,” she recalls. “I thought it would be great to work nearby. I was so anxious to get started that I even called the hospital during my honeymoon to make sure they hadn’t misplaced my application.”

When she started, the hospital only had one obstetrician and deliveries numbered only six to eight per month. Pediatricians had to travel in from their offices to attend high-risk deliveries, and babies with post-natal complications were typically transported to other facilities right away. 

Wetherby says standards of care have improved so much that today only newborns with the most serious complications have to be moved, typically to Atrium Health's Levine Children's Jeff Gordon Children’s Center in Concord or Atrium Health's Levine Children’s Hospital in Charlotte.

This careful integration of services is the most significant change she has seen since starting 33 years ago. “In the old days, even though we were part of a network, each hospital could be doing its own thing,” she says. “Now, all treatment is evidence-based, and we get regular updates on best practices."

Dr. Hall says the No. 1 change he’s seen is the hospital’s ability to treat more patients, and more seriously ill patients without having to transfer them to another location.

“We have critical care services available now that couldn’t be justified by our relatively low patient volumes in the early years,” he says. “Now, in contrast, we have so much expertise in-house that we only have to transfer a few patients a day. Formerly, high acuity patients were almost inevitably sent elsewhere.”

Dr. Hall is complimentary about the good relations that exist between medical staff and hospital administrators. “Our leaders are very open to changes and we have great collaboration at all levels. Everyone – nurses, assistants, technicians, lab professionals, et cetera – is encouraged to speak up if they see a way to improve procedures.”

Dr. Hall says it’s remarkable, but not surprising, that this “culture of inclusion” has held up so well over the years. “Despite the growth, we’ve always operated as a close-knit family.”  

Bill Leonard, hospital president since 2010, agrees that one of the hospital’s most defining characteristics is the level of closeness in staff and patient interactions. At the same time, he says, the hospital is unique for the number, variety and high level of services that are available for a facility of its size.

Leonard says the closeness between the medical staff and all members of the hospital team brings accountability and exceptional teamwork. “That has a tangible impact on the quality of care,” he says. “Appreciation of that quality is a universal theme in our feedback from patients, and a tremendous source of pride. With seamless access to Atrium Health’s tertiary care, this hospital has one of the best records in the nation for patient safety and efficiency.”

Timeline of Key Events at Atrium Health University City

  • 1985: A new hospital is built on vacant farmland in an area of the city known as “Newell,” located close to the UNC-Charlotte campus. Built and operated by The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Hospital Authority, the facility opens in May with the name University Memorial Hospital. 
  • 1990: University Memorial Hospital changes its name to University Hospital. 
  • 2001: University Hospital is renamed Carolinas Medical Center-University. 
  • 2015: As part of a system-wide re-branding effort, Carolinas Medical Center-University is re-named Carolinas HealthCare System University. 
  • 2018: Effective December 1, Carolinas HealthCare System University is renamed Atrium Health University City.