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Cornelius News

Town supports CON for Atrium hospital in Cornelius

Nov. 19. Analysis. By Dave Yochum. The Cornelius Town Board has made clear its druthers around Atrium Health’s plans for a 30-bed acute care hospital on the Augustalee property along Hwy. 21, south of Westmoreland.

The board unanimously passed a resolution Nov. 18 supporting the proposal which will have to pass muster under the state’s Certificate of Need process.

The resolution said, in part: “Cornelius’ population has grown by approximately 700% over the past 30 years and is projected to continue sustained growth for the foreseeable future, and is part of the exponential growth experienced and continuing for the entire northern Mecklenburg County area; and whereas, Cornelius does not have a hospital facility, meaning its citizens currently have barriers to acute care facilities located outside of Cornelius due to challenging drive times resulting from the long distances to those existing facilities and due to the severe, pervasive, and consistent congestion that exists on northern Mecklenburg County’s and Charlotte region’s road networks.”

The Town Board has approved virtually all the construction projects over the last 25 years that have contributed to congestion.

In fact, development and traffic issues came up as a major concern last night during a public hearing on a small infill project with 27 dwellings on Washam Potts Road.

There’s no telling how much traffic would increase based on a hospital and mixed-use development at Augustalee. There’s also no doubt land owners have rights to put their property to use.

In October Atrium filed an initial application with the NC Division of Health Service Regulation for a Certificate of Need (CON) to build a 30-bed acute care hospital with two operating rooms. Business Today, sister publication of Cornelius Today, first reported the news Oct. 21.

Atrium plans a major medical development with an adjacent mixed-use project comprising residential, offices and retail, according to reliable sources in the real estate community.

Based on the size and the scope of the development, Atrium could bring hundreds of new jobs to Cornelius.

“There’s no question this will create jobs and attract new medical-related businesses,” Mayor Woody Washam said.

Business Today reported back in June that the Augustalee site—a crown jewel in the world of economic development—was under contract.

The sale price and prospective buyer were not disclosed at the time.

But Atrium has confirmed they plan a Cornelius facility that, if approved by the state, would open in early 2023.

Here it gets interesting. The Certificate of Need process allows competing hospitals to protest duplicative plans by another hospital. CONs allow hospitals to recoup their investment in costly equipment and facilities—keeping prices down—and minimize competition—keeping prices up.

CONs make providers ask for permission to build a new facility or expand an existing one.

North Carolina is one of about three dozen states that impose such restrictions on health care.

In essence, CON laws allow established providers to influence if not control who can compete with them.

Novant has dominated North Meck healthcare since it opened of the Huntersville Medical Center 15 years ago.

Novant Huntersville opened with 50 acute care beds; it now has 139 beds at Exit 23 on I-77.

If a new hospital were to make it through North Carolina’s Certificate of Need process, a Cornelius location makes sense because there are existing hospitals four miles south and in Mooresville where Lake Norman Regional Medical Center is located at Exit 33.

Novant might not protest too much.

It initially circumvented the CON process when it built its medical center in Huntersville.

Outgoing Town Commissioner Dave Gilroy said an Atrium hospital here should anchor an “exceptional development concentrating on satellite specialty medical office, Class A office for technology and service companies more generally, perhaps a high-end flagged or boutique hotel, unique and complementary recreational/retail services, and remarkable architectural standards throughout!”

The residential component should be very limited, he said.

“The first principle here is economic development—outstanding, local jobs. And with success at Augustalee, we must rededicate ourselves to expanded parks, greenways, and rural land preservation in other areas of Cornelius,” he said.

Doing so may take property rights away from some landowners with far less influence than a hospital chain.

At last night’s meeting Gilroy said “not saturating every square foot of this town” with residential development was key to maintaining a high quality of life in Cornelius.

“We really need to keep our eye on this and I am hopeful the new commissioners will keep an eye on this as well,” Gilroy said. He lost his re-election bid this year after serving 14 years on the town board.

Atrium, meanwhile, isn’t saying anything beyond a press release issued three days after the news stories in Business Today and Cornelius Today.