An artist's rendering shows how the planned Atrium Lake Norman hospital in Cornelius will look when it opens in 2024. Illustration courtesy of Atrium Health

A new 160,000-square-foot, 30-bed hospital that Atrium Health recently announced for Cornelius in northern Mecklenburg County is expected to boost health care options in the fast-growing area and could bring more than 300 jobs plus additional economic benefits.

Atrium Health, Charlotte’s largest hospital system, announced its plans for the new facility on July 12, saying Atrium Health Lake Norman will likely open in early 2024. The $154 million hospital will be at the southwest corner of U.S. 21 and Westmoreland Road, according to Atrium. 

In addition to the 30 acute care beds, the hospital will have six maternity suites, two operating rooms, eight emergency department bays open 24/7 and a helipad, according to Atrium. The hospital will also offer imaging services, including MRIs, CTs and X-rays, along with lab and pharmacy services.

The 100-acre plot where the hospital will sit has gone through several owners and interested investors prior to Atrium Health, Cornelius Mayor Woody Washam said. 

In 2006, the area was slated to become a mixed-use project called Augustalee, similar to the  Birkdale shopping and residential area in nearby Huntersville. However, the Augustalee project went into foreclosure after the 2008 recession, Washam said. 

Need for hospital beds

The hospital is a welcome addition, the mayor said. Currently, Atrium has smaller ancillary facilities in the area, but those facilities do not provide acute care services. 

Cornelius residents who receive health care through Atrium often have to drive east to Cabarrus County or south to uptown Charlotte to seek care because of the lack of an Atrium facility, Washam said.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that Cornelius has grown from just under 25,000 residents in 2010 to more than 30,000 by 2019. 

Other towns in the north Mecklenburg region, directly to the east of Lake Norman, have seen similar growth. North of Cornelius, Davidson has grown from just under 11,000 in 2010 to an estimated more than 13,000 residents by 2019. Huntersville, directly south of Cornelius, grew from just under 47,000 in 2010 to more than 58,000 by 2019.

“I think it will up our game as far as our quality of life,” Walsham said of the hospital. “To have a hospital five minutes away versus 25 minutes away is a good thing.”

The state originally denied Atrium Health’s plan for the Cornelius hospital in April, as listed on the N.C. Division of Health Service Regulation website. In order to build a new hospital or add hospital beds to an existing facility, health care providers are required to submit a certificate of need to the state Division of Health Service Regulation. 

The state found that Atrium failed to prove that there was a need for additional services in the area. According to the state’s required findings, “The applicant overstates the number of patients projected to be served at AHLN.”

The project was later approved in late May after “additional information was made available as part of an appeal process settlement that resolved the matter,” according to a statement from Atrium.

Washam and the town Board of Commissioners believe a need exists for an additional facility in the area, especially with the rapid growth happening in the last few years in the Lake Norman area. The town board unanimously passed two resolutions in support of Atrium’s certificate of need, he said. 

According to Atrium’s statement, the hospital system will not increase its overall number of beds across its hospitals. Instead, the Lake Norman beds will be relocated from Atrium’s other locations. 

Jobs and economic impact

A spokesperson from Atrium said the opening of the hospital is expected to create upward of 300 jobs but did not provide a breakdown of what those jobs would be. Atrium declined to comment on its hiring practices and whether preference would be given to residents.

Washam hopes that the hospital will consider hiring locally. 

“I’m sure that there are folks in the health care industry that live locally that would love to work locally,” he said. “It would be a benefit to everybody and improve their quality of life as well.”

Cornelius Town Manager Andrew Grant thinks the hospital will also boost the city’s commercial development by attracting outside business and promoting internal redevelopment.

A key part of the development will be the hospital’s location on the U.S. 21 corridor. The corridor is largely known for commercial purposes, but the introduction of a hospital has the potential to shift that narrative more toward a residential corridor, Grant said.

The hospital will occupy only about 4 acres out of a 100-acre area, leaving ample space and opportunity for other businesses to develop next to the hospital, he said. He expects to see medical offices and other health care-related services develop alongside the hospital to capitalize on the location and provide support.

 In addition, nonmedical businesses like restaurants, retail stores and office spaces are likely to develop in the same area to meet the eventual demands of the new workforce, he added.

“Companies like to locate near hospital services,” Grant said.

The new hospital will not be without competition. 

Across the Iredell County line in Mooresville, Lake Norman Regional Medical Center operates with 123 beds, while Novant Health Medical Center is in Huntersville with 91 beds, according to both of their websites. 

“I think all the consumers of health care services in this region should benefit by having three different hospital systems and in our neck of the woods,” Grant said. 

“That’s always a benefit from a personal financial standpoint.” 

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Arturo Pineda is a former reporter with Carolina Public Press and Report for America fellow.