From Atrium Health Press Release:

The late Charles A. Cannon, son of Cannon Mills founder James W. Cannon, presided over Cannon Mills from the 1920s to the 1960s. For many of those years he was forced to listen to the harsh blare of sirens as local ambulances drove past his office en route to Salisbury or Charlotte. In those days, that’s where emergency patients had to go for care.

Over time, he and his associate George A. Batte Jr. realized the need to do something more concrete about the lack of a hospital facility in Concord proper. So together they provided leadership for the civic effort that ultimately resulted in the establishment of Cabarrus County General Hospital. It opened as a county-owned property in 1937 with 45 beds and 10 bassinets.

Now, 82 years and five name changes later, Atrium Health Cabarrus encompasses 457 licensed beds; a wide variety of clinical services; a substantial inpatient/outpatient network; some 380 staff physicians; and more than 4,000 employees.

In fact, that profile will change again later this month when the new $115 million Heart and Vascular Tower opens on the main campus. Enhancements will include state-of-the-art cardiac catheterization services, interventional radiology equipment, and upgrades for existing inpatient beds.

One employee who has been around long enough to see four of the facility’s five name changes is Martha Day, RN.  Day started as a part-time nurse’s aide in 1970, and now – with nearly five decades of service – works in nursing administration.

Her first nursing credential was granted by the Cabarrus Memorial School of Nursing, a predecessor to the Cabarrus College of Health Sciences. Interestingly enough, a passion for healthcare seems to be genetic. Both her mother and her daughter attended the same institution.

Day started in cardiac care and moved to nursing administration in the late 1970s. Asked why and how she could work at one organization for so long, Day admits to “a natural aversion to change.” Despite prizing the stability in her own work situation, however, she does recognize healthcare as one of the world’s most rapidly changing industries.

“When I started in 1970 our emergency department had only four bays,” she remembers. “We now have 10 times that number, with spillover beds available when all 40 bays are full. And just think about the difference between a four-bay unit and our current stature as a Level I trauma center. The growth and improvements are mind-boggling.”

Another witness to dramatic change is Robert Kinney, MD, current chair of the hospital’s Board of Advisors. Dr. Kinney first arrived in Concord in 1984 as a Duke Pathology Resident and Fellow. He started at the hospital full time in 1988 and later served 20 years as a North Carolina Medical Examiner for Cabarrus County.

He has held a number of key organizational positions in more recent years, including board service at the time NorthEast Medical Center merged with Carolinas HealthCare System in 2007. He reflects on that period of time as follows:

“When you’re part of an organization that has such a long history of success and community service, it’s difficult to consider a change in status. It’s only natural to have a bias in favor of independence. Nevertheless, given the dramatic changes we saw coming in healthcare, we knew it would be difficult in the long run to survive, let alone thrive, if we didn’t find a partner organization with similar culture and values.”

Looking back, he sees the merger as something that has made a truly positive difference for both organizations, sometimes in ways that could not have been foreseen just a dozen years ago.

“Here in Concord,” he says, “some benefits may be less visible to the public, things like back office support in HR, finance or information technology. At the same time, we’ve seen any number of highly visible benefits, such as the addition of sophisticated new equipment and new sub-specialty services.”

He notes the importance of the new Heart and Vascular Tower, and highlights the number of patients who now have easier access to significant clinical trials for cancer treatment. “If I were a patient searching for care,” he says, “I’d be much more confident going to a place that has all of the resources we now have. Somewhere in Atrium’s system, there is an expert in just about any medical sub-specialty you can name.”

Thomas Long, MD, has been associated with Atrium Health Cabarrus since the early 1970s. At that time he wore one hat as a gastroenterologist leading an independent practice, and another hat as Duke Faculty Coordinator of Cabarrus Memorial Hospital’s physician education program. Now retired, he has a long history of board service with the hospital in Concord, with the Cabarrus College of Health Sciences, and – later – with Carolinas HealthCare System.

He says his medical practice had an excellent working relationship with the hospital both before and after the merger. Another big positive, he says, is the resources made available to ensure that already strong service lines remain on the cutting edge of medicine. “People can get on-site care for conditions that used to require travel to Charlotte or even more distant cities. The overall quality and availability of care here is outstanding.”

Phyllis Wingate, CEO for the past nine years, agrees that one of the most impressive changes during her tenure has been growth in the number and quality of services.

“Looking back over history, I feel the people of this community have been blessed,” she says. “They’ve been blessed by the extraordinary dedication of people like Martha Day. They’ve been blessed to have visionary leaders like Robert Kinney and Thomas Long, who were and are totally focused on how best to meet the community’s long-term aspirations.

“I’m grateful for their service, and for the service of all those who work hard every day to ensure that Atrium Health Cabarrus patients get the best possible service and achieve the best possible outcomes. As I look ahead, I couldn’t be more optimistic.”