McColl: In Atrium Health fight, growth is not a dirty word

Atrium Health CEO Gene Woods and his board want the highest-quality care at the lowest cost, Hugh McColl says.
Atrium Health CEO Gene Woods and his board want the highest-quality care at the lowest cost, Hugh McColl says. Observer photo

As a former member of the Board of Commissioners that oversees Atrium Health, formerly Carolinas HealthCare System, I am troubled by the criticism hospital leaders are facing over contractual decisions with some of its physician groups. At the heart of the matter, I believe, is disagreement over whether our health system should innovate and grow or maintain the status quo.

Healthcare is changing at a breathtaking rate. Such change requires courageous leadership and a willingness to try new approaches for the long-term good.

It reminds me of my time with the bank that would become Bank of America. Changes during the 1980s and ‘90s to the laws governing interstate banking allowed us to realize unprecedented growth. The pace of that change — not to mention the competition — sparked plenty of dust-ups but ultimately resulted in the bank’s ability to offer consumers more choices, greater convenience and lower costs, while allowing unprecedented investment in the development of the Charlotte region.

I know Atrium Health CEO Gene Woods and its board have a similar vision: to maintain a nonprofit health system that can deliver the highest-quality care at the lowest possible cost to everyone in this region, while investing in programs that will have a positive impact on the quality of life for everyone who calls Charlotte home.

To be a top-flight health system you must have professionals from the finest schools and with the best practical experience. State-of-the-art facilities, technology and equipment — coupled with the opportunity to participate in research, clinical trials and other medical advances — help Atrium Health attract and retain the best and brightest physicians and other caregivers.

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A robust Atrium Health also means the people of Charlotte don’t have to go elsewhere for advanced medical services, like the life-saving care provided at Atrium’s Levine Children’s Hospital, Levine Cancer Institute and Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute. Likewise, Atrium’s investments in virtual-care technology bring first-rate care to patients in suburban and rural locations, improving patient outcomes and lowering the cost of care.

Atrium Health’s growth also has a substantial economic impact on our community. Beyond multi-billion-dollar investments in facilities and infrastructure, Atrium is one of the region's largest employers with 38,000 workers. And the presence of a world-class health system makes Charlotte more attractive for companies looking to locate here, creating even more jobs and more economic opportunity.

Opponents of our health systems’ growth incorrectly fear the organizations are pursuing their own agendas without regard for the people and community they serve. Nothing could be further from the truth. Like banking, healthcare is highly regulated by federal, state and local government. Atrium’s charter — which dates to its founding in 1943 as Charlotte’s public hospital — as well as its nonprofit status ensure the hospital system will always place the public’s interests ahead of its own.

Growth is not a dirty word. I saw a great deal of growth in my time at Bank of America and I know that, done properly, it brings efficiencies that allow organizations to do more positive things for more people. Atrium Health and its mission of growth is good for Charlotte, and they deserve our continued support.

McColl is the retired chairman and CEO of Bank of America and a former member of the Board of Commissioners for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Hospital Authority.