Eugene A. Woods, president and chief executive officer of Atrium Health, with the staff of Atrium Health's Carolinas Medical Center's Emergency Department and MEDIC.

Words from Woods, News | 6 months ago

Through Tragedy, Our Mission Shines Bright

A terrible tragedy occurred in our community this week as students at UNC Charlotte became the latest victims of an on-campus shooting. Violence in our communities is a serious public health issue. Alongside hospitals and health systems across the country, Atrium Health answers the call to provide critical and lifesaving services not only to victims of violence within our communities, but also to address violence beyond medical care. While there is certainly more work to be done, one thing I know for sure is that our mission and our teammates shined brightly this week as proud citizens of our great Queen City.

By Eugene A. Woods, MBA, MHA, FACHE, president and CEO of Atrium Health 

In thinking about this week, I am reflecting on the loss of innocent lives at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNCC), as our community and nation mourn the tragic and senseless shooting. Nearly 40 years after the U.S. Surgeon General officially recognized violence as a public health priority, this tragedy painfully reminds us of the profound ways in which violence continues to have significant consequences in our communities. Alongside hospitals and health systems across the country, Atrium Health is at our best in how we care for all our citizens – especially those in their greatest time of need. I marveled at the work of those Atrium Health professionals in the tragedy’s aftermath.  

After the incident, I had a chance to sit in on a debrief session with a variety of our clinical leaders at Atrium Health’s Carolinas Medical Center for what’s called an “after action review” of the incident, revealing many bright spots as well as opportunities for enhancing coordination with first responders in the field during active-shooter scenarios. 

What especially stood out to me in an amazing way was how everyone came together and worked seamlessly, even in the initial fog of not knowing how many patients to anticipate. In addition to taking care of these students, our teams were also caring for other very serious traumas that arrived in the Emergency Department almost simultaneously. In speaking to the physician in charge of the ED at the time, she recounted how she was managing the care of the students while also desperately trying to connect with her daughter, who she knew was on campus near the incident. She shared that, as a terrified parent during those moments, she had never related more to our patients and their families rushing into the ED.  

I also visited privately with the students in our care and with their parents. And similar to that physician in charge of the ED, there was something quite personal and parental that kicked in for me during these moments, understanding that these kids are the same age as my youngest son. Despite surviving such a horrific incident, they each maintained a positive outlook and even a sense of humor. One student joked that they felt confident they would get an “A” on their project, despite not having the opportunity to present.  

While these remarkable young adults still hadn’t fully processed what had occurred, they shared their profound appreciation for how our teammates cared for them – both physically and emotionally. I also heard many compliments about how well our teams worked with the police officers who were stationed outside of the room of each student. It was like they were part of our Atrium Health family, too.  

On one hand, this is a day in the life of our system – simply doing what our team does best. Namely, saving lives with compassionate care. On the other hand, these are unprecedented times, and we are now all called to step up in extraordinary ways. For those of us in healthcare and those of us in the community - every life that that we care for, every life that we positively impact, every life that we save is so preciously unique. Each has their own story, and each of them has the potential to go on to contribute incredible things to this world. 

One thing I know for sure is that our mission shined brightly this week as proud teammates and proud citizens of this great city. We are truly #AtriumHealthProud and #CharlotteStrong.