Charlotte, NC

Merger Thursday in Charlotte: Atrium expands, Gov. Cooper's budget asks, CMS bus crash follow-up

Collin Cunningham

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Announced Wednesday, a new merger will see Charlotte's largest hospital system join with the biggest care provider in Milwaukee.(Cytonn Photography/Unsplash)

By Collin Cunningham

(CHARLOTTE, N.C.) Welcoming you to the last rain-free day of the workweek, this Thursday, May 12 Queen City Roundup shares stories relating to budgets, buses, businesses and boards.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper wants to pile an additional $2 billion for teacher and state employee raises onto a proposed $27 billion budget and Atrium Health is looking to cover more patients by joining with Advocate Aurora Health. We also respond to Wednesday's Roundup with new details about a bus crash that injured 15 Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools students and share the news that district board member Rhonda Cheek will be resigning.

But first, feedback: We want to hear from you to help improve the Roundup. Have a suggestion for changes or new daily features, or want to sound off on a recent story? Drop us a line in the comments section.

1. Atrium and Advocate: Charlotte's largest hospital system merger with Milwaukee's

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Atrium Health CEO Eugene Woods will lead the merged Atrium and Advocate Aurora Health 18 months after the deal's is completed.(Courtesy of Atrium Health)

What happened: Charlotte's largest hospital system will expand operations when it completes a merger with Advocate Aurora Health, the largest health care provider serving Milwaukee. A nonprofit care provider with about 70,000 employees, Advocate's health care combination with Atrium will essentially allow both companies to double their employment roster.

Charlotte-area care facilities will keep the Atrium name, but the fiscal fusion will expand both systems' footprints to include Illinois, Wisconsin, North and South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama, Atrium stated in a Wednesday announcement.

Upon the merger's finalization, the consolidated care companies will cover 5.5 million patients across more than 1,000 facilities and 67 hospitals. In tandem, Fierce Healthcare reports the medical providers to be worth $27 billion.

Why it matters: The merger comes amid a busy year for Atrium, which intends to begin construction on The Pearl, an "innovation district" containing Charlotte's first medical college and various health research facilities. On Monday, the Charlotte system announced that it would be the only provider in the region to host COVID-19 vaccine trials for children under the age of five.

2. Governor's gambit: NC Gov. Cooper requests $2B budget increase from legislators

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Having signed a two-year budget agreement in November, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper is able to make changes with legislative approval.(Allison Joyce/Getty Images)

What happened: In the hopes of further increasing wages for teachers and employees of North Carolina, Gov. Roy Cooper wants to add $2 billion to a proposed state budget, increasing the 2022-23 fiscal forecast to $29.3 billion. Opening the door for the increase is a revised revenue prediction that sees the Tar Heel State collecting an additional $4.24 billion over the fiscal period than it expected to in June of 2021.

Zooming out: The North Carolina General Assembly will have the final say in the matter, which comes just under six months after Cooper signed a two-year budget agreement, including funding for fast broadband, support for colleges, cleaner resources and 5% raises for teachers, per WCNC. Announced Wednesday, the additional expenditures would bump that up to 7.5%, taking teachers' starting salaries from $35,950 to $36,600, on top of a $3,000 yearly bonus.

Supplementing those salary upgrades in Cooper's proposal is an expansion that would bring Medicaid benefits to 600,000 residents of the Old North State and a $4 million investment in a planned African American monument in Raleigh's Freedom Park. Other money will go towards mental health services at public schools and down payment mitigation for first-time homebuyers, per The News & Observer.

3. CMS stories: Continued coverage of bus crash, Rhonda Cheek to wave goodbye to board, county considers budget

Continuing a trend witnessed throughout the past few weeks of superintendent swapping and budgeting, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has made multiple appearances in this week's Roundups and doesn't appear ready to buck the pattern. Below is a follow-up on a piece from Wednesday's stories along with two new briefs concerning board members and free meals:

  • Crash continued: The 14 Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools students who entered the hospital for minor injuries following Wednesday's head-on collision of bus 222 are expected to recover. One mother told WSOC that her son went to another medical center for internal injuries. Her daughter sustained broken fingers when the vehicle connected with a dump truck on Sharonbrook Drive around 6:30 a.m. Separate WSOC reporting revealed that the battered bus had been hit with a federal recall notice for a "lack of impact absorption" in the foam covering the seats, but CMS said the National Traffic Safety Administration gave permission to keep driving it. Speaking to WBTV, district board member Margaret Marshall said the South Mecklenburg High School "is rallying around these individuals as they recover from this traumatic event" and said her thoughts are with those involved.
  • Cheek's leave: Less than a month after former Superintendent Earnest Winston's exit from CMS, one of its Board of Education's most outspoken members revealed a year-end resignation. Having been elected to represent the board's District 1 in 2009, Rhonda Cheek has been one of the board's most recent critics of the district's response to weapon possession and sexual assaults on campus. Cheek was one of the seven board members to vote in favor of terminating Winston in April, telling WFAE that the group "hired a good man" and "supported his leadership journey" but "must move forward on a different path."
  • Budget brewing: Also looking to approve a budget before the fiscal year 2023 begins on July 1 is CMS, which is hoping to pay its teachers the highest wages in the state with its proposal for a $2 billion statement. Queen City Nerve reports that figure to be $40 million higher than last year's budget and includes a request for $579 million from Mecklenburg County. The district introduced the ask to the Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday, with new Superintendent Hugh Hattabaugh saying the proposal can help "close the achievement gap for our students in poverty and our Hispanic and Black students."

More May 12 headlines out of Charlotte:

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I cover the city of Charlotte, North Carolina for NewsBreak's Creator Program. Check back often for daily headline roundups to learn what's happening in the Queen City!

Charlotte, NC
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