Local health-care workers are bracing for another two to four weeks of rising Delta variant cases before potentially seeing relief, said Dr. Katie Passaretti, medical director of infection prevention at Atrium Health.

Passaretti described the recent Covid-19 uptick as a whiplash effect, with the system battling exhaustion and lower morale among workers. The number of hospitalizations have increased nine-fold in North Carolina, surpassing 3,300 people this week, according to state data. She said there is also a higher severity of illness in this wave. About 30% of patients have required intensive care at hospitals.

“We thought in June we were maybe done with the pandemic. Everyone was kind of getting back to normal,” Passaretti told Atrium’s board of commissioners on Tuesday. “Our hospitals are bearing the brunt of that (increase) on top of the normal other hospitalizations.”

Atrium CEO Gene Woods also expressed his concerns on the matter. In January, the health system recorded the highest number of Covid-19 patients to date since the pandemic began, he said. That number dipped to its lowest point in June. Since then, Atrium has seen a more than 1,000% increase in the number of patients, Woods added.

Charlotte-based Atrium and other health-care providers continue to push for the community to get vaccinated. Vaccination rates have in the past ranged from 32% to 48% in the counties across Atrium’s footprint, Passaretti said. As of Tuesday, just over half of Mecklenburg County’s eligible population had now been fully vaccinated, according to state data.

About 94% of Atrium’s Covid-19 patients on ventilators were not vaccinated, Woods noted.

“There’s not the understanding of the actual situation within the health-care settings that are being most impacted by this rise in cases,” Passaretti said.

Woods did praise Atrium’s efforts to vaccinate minority communities. He said more than half of the residents vaccinated since mid-June have been minorities — more specifically, one-third were African Americans.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Atrium also reported a much-improved financial standing compared to last year, when it posted a net loss in the first half of 2020. Net income for the first six months of 2021 came to $943.53 million. That’s compared to a more than $300 million net loss a year ago. Net operating revenue came to $4.23 billion, a 16% increase from the first six months of 2020.

Atrium had initially budgeted for $261.56 million in net income in the first six months, including $84.45 million in operating income.


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Total operating expenses were about 2% higher than expected at $3.97 billion.

These numbers include Atrium’s controlled operations and related entities, including Atrium Health Navicent and the Atrium Health Foundation.

Plans continue for a planned four-year medical school in midtown. Construction is set to begin in 2022, with the campus including an education building for the Wake Forest School of Medicine, plus a life sciences-focused research building as part of a larger innovation district.

The cost of the medical school, research building and parking deck is expected to exceed $300 million, said Dennis Miller, vice president of development at Wexford Science & Technology, which is working on the project.

Last week, Atrium and Wake Forest Baptist Health announced a new combined brand to represent the strategic combination made official last October.

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