An aerial view of phase 1 of "The Pearl" innovation district


Investing in the Future: The Heartbeat of the Queen City

Atrium Health leaders told the Atrium Health Board of Commissioners that the first visible signs of progress on "The Pearl" innovation district will be evident this month as construction gets underway on the site in Midtown.

Now is the time to make investments in the future.

That’s the message Atrium Health President and CEO Eugene A. Woods shared with the Atrium Health Board of Commissioners at its quarterly meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 9.

"It’s never been more important to make the right investments in our bright future,” Woods said, despite the organization reporting an operating loss of $116.1 million due to the impacts from the pandemic.

Board Chair Angie Vincent-Hamacher affirmed the organization’s continuing commitment to its mission, saying, "There are significant financial challenges that health systems across the country are facing. Regardless of the challenges, we’re going to continue to be laser focused on our FOR ALL mission.”

Woods then explained that anyone visiting Midtown Charlotte in the next few days will notice the unmistakable signs of progress near the future site of The Pearl innovation district. The demolition of Atrium Health’s data center on South McDowell Street is set to begin this month. The building was recently decommissioned after more than 20 years of service, replaced by more advanced physical storage and internet cloud-based systems. Now, its location will pave the way for what will soon become the heartbeat of the Queen City. At the center of The Pearl will sit the campus of Wake Forest University School of Medicine Charlotte.

He also unveiled a new rendering that gives a closer look at Phase 1A of The Pearl. On the right is the Howard R. Levine Center for Education, which will include Wake Forest University School of Business, Wake Forest University School of Professional Studies and Carolinas College of Health Sciences. Across the connector to the left is the research building, which is expected to become home to the exclusive North American headquarters of IRCAD, a France-based, global, surgical training center. IRCAD draws thousands of medical professionals to each of its sites each year for training and seminars using the latest surgical techniques, including robotics, medical virtual and augmented reality, surgical artificial intelligence and simulation training.

A new rendering of phase 1 of "The Pearl" innovation district
A new rendering of The Pearl. On the left, Research Building 1. On the right is the Howard R. Levine Center for Education.

All Eyes on the Crowning Jewel

Once complete, The Pearl will reshape Charlotte’s skyline, forming a sort of city-within-a-city near the site of the old Brooklyn neighborhood, which was once a historic city-within-a-city of its own.

The Pearl’s central plaza will feature an expanded amphitheater, with a Jacob’s Ladder design, in front of the research and education buildings. Woods explained that the design was inspired by the old Second Ward High School, which previously sat nearby. Children would gather along the steps of the fire exits and sing hymns. The shape of those fire exits was dubbed Jacob’s Ladder by residents of the Brooklyn neighborhood. Woods said the hope is that The Pearl’s Jacob’s Ladder will serve as a place for the community to congregate as in the heyday of the Brooklyn neighborhood.

A rendering of The Pearl’s central plaza, featuring an expanded amphitheater and Jacob’s ladder inspired by the old 2nd Ward High School.
The Pearl’s central plaza will feature an expanded amphitheater and Jacob’s ladder inspired by the old Second Ward High School.

“We will educate a new generation of medical professionals who will be among the finest in the country,” said Woods. “This will be a place for students, clinicians and researchers to learn from each other and focus on the art of the possible. These inspirational collaborations will lead to new medicines, techniques and therapies that have the potential to change the world and provide better health for all.”

Formal groundbreaking is expected at the beginning of 2023, but the project is already gaining national attention from news outlets and industry organizations like the American College of Healthcare Executives.

Still Growing

Atrium Health's new community clinic Atrium Health Primary Care One Health Family Medicine SouthPark
Atrium Health Primary Care One Health Family Medicine SouthPark

Beyond The Pearl, Ken Haynes, president of the Greater Charlotte Region, told the board how Atrium Health is working hard to make care more convenient for its patients. Haynes shared details about the opening of Atrium Health’s newest community care practice, Atrium Health Primary Care One Health Family Medicine SouthPark giving residents of south Charlotte additional access to primary care services.

Also in south Charlotte, Haynes said construction on the seventh floor Palmetto Tower at Atrium Health Pineville, as well as the surgery suite expansion and renovation, is expected to begin next year.

North of uptown, Haynes told the board that design development for its new hospital, Atrium Health Lake Norman is about 50% complete. Haynes said construction on the 150,000 square foot facility is expected to begin in the second quarter of 2023 in the hopes of opening by 2025.

And, in Lincoln County, Atrium Health Musculoskeletal Institute and OrthoCarolina are teaming up to provide complete orthopedic and sports medicine care, giving the local community access to nationally recognized care close to home for the first time.

Breaking New Ground

While Atrium Health may be growing physically, its impact on the world of health is growing at an even faster rate, breaking new ground in terms of both innovation and moving earth.

Haynes told the board that in June, after more than 35 years since its first life-saving transplant, surgeons at Atrium Health Sanger Heart and Vascular Institute performed its 700th heart transplant.

“This achievement – coupled with a nationally-leading 97% one-year survivability rate following a transplant, compared to the nationwide average of 91% – shows our world-class surgeons and health care professionals are providing great health, hope and healing – for ALL of our heart and vascular patients,” Haynes said.

Atrium Health's new community clinic Atrium Health Primary Care One Health Family Medicine SouthPark
SurgiBind implantable reinforcement fish-skin.

Haynes also shared that Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute surgeon Dr. Hector Crespo Soto recently became the first physician in the world to use fish skin to repair tissue.

Yep, that’s what Haynes said. Fish skin. Talk about breaking new ground.

The product uses skin from North Atlantic cod. It’s grafted on human skin to help the patient’s own tissue regenerate.

Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute received a Center of Excellence designation from Kerecis®, a medical device manufacturer using fish skin and fatty acids in cellular therapy, tissue regeneration and protection.

Setting the Standard for Care

Haynes also explained how Atrium Health is helping to facilitate organ donation and transplants, earning recognition both across the region and across the country. LifeShare Carolinas is an Organ Procurement Organization owned and operated by Atrium Health. It’s just one of seven (out of 57) that are hospital-owned in the United States.

“I’m pleased to share that … LifeShare Carolinas ranks number one in the nation in both donation rate and transplant rate,” Haynes said.

These are lives being saved.

The LifeShare team is responsible for donations at 42 hospitals (including 10 Atrium Health facilities) in 23 counties in North Carolina. They work to distribute organs, eyes and tissue to transplant centers around the country – and the world – including the transplant center at Atrium Health Carolinas Medical Center.

And there was big news for the team at Atrium Health Levine Children’s Hospital. The Cardinal Health Foundation (in partnership with Children’s Hospital Association and the Zero Suicide Institute) selected Levine Children’s for a $100,000 grant to participate in their “Preventing Youth Suicide” national collaborative. 

“As we all know it’s a growing component coming out of the pandemic and it’s so important that we address this,” Haynes said. “One in four Americans experiences a mental health issue at some point in their lifetime, and suicide is the second leading cause of death among persons aged 10-24 years in the United States.” 

Haynes finished his report by highlighting several honors Atrium Health has received since the previous board meeting, including Atrium Health Carolinas Medical Center being recognized as the “Best Hospital” in the Charlotte metro region for the sixth consecutive year by US News and World Report, while Atrium Health Carolinas Rehabilitation is ranked among the top 2% of rehabilitation facilities in the nation – at No.16 on the Best Hospitals for Rehabilitation Care list and the only rehabilitation hospital in the Charlotte region to be given this distinction.

Diversity MBA Magazine also recently named Atrium Health as the number one company for 2022 on its 16th annual list of 50 Out Front: Best Places to Work for Women and Diverse Managers.

“Our team is doing great work,” Haynes said. “I’m very proud of them.”