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Seven North Carolina hospital systems had record profits during COVID, report says

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North Carolina’s largest hospital systems made record profits during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a reportreleased Wednesday by the state treasurer’s office.

The report said seven hospital systems — Atrium Health, Cone Health, Duke Health, Novant Health, UNC Health, Vidant Health and WakeMed — made a combined $5.2 billion in net profits in 2021. The systems, according to the report, also received a combined $1.5 billion in COVID-19 relief money.

“The federal government channeled taxpayers’ money to the rich and the powerful hospitals, especially here in North Carolina. (They) did not really need the money in the first place,” said Ge Bai, professor of health policy and management at Johns Hopkins University, who helped review the report from the treasurer's office, during a Wednesday news conference.

State Treasurer Dale Folwell called on the hospital systems to “use their profits to lower costs for patients” or “return unnecessary, taxpayer-funded relief dollars.”

The North Carolina Healthcare Association, which represents the state’s hospitals, in a statementWednesday called the treasurer’s report “politically motivated” and said it was “falsely demonizing” hospital systems.

“Cherry-picking financial data, and then spinning it, is not reflective of the many immense struggles and challenges facing the hospital field, including a workforce shortage criticism along with skyrocketing costs for supplies, equipment, drugs and labor, and near-historic levels of inflation,” the NCHA statement said, in part.

Charlotte-based Atrium Health, the city’s largest hospital system, also responded to the report with a statement.

“It’s troubling that health systems like Atrium Health are being attacked while we are still caring for communities that are recovering from the pandemic,” Atrium's statement read, in part. “The reality is the $719 million in provider relief funds we have received covers less than half of the adverse $1.55 billion financial impact we have incurred as a result of the pandemic.”

In June 2020, WFAE reported that Atrium had received about $191 million in federal grants designed to help health care providers respond to the coronavirus, according to a data analysis by research group Good Jobs First. Meanwhile, Atrium’s financial statements showed the hospital system had nearly $5 billion in investment accounts in 2018.

At the time, an Atrium spokesperson said the funds, part of billions in federal relief included in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or CARES Act, would be used to partially offset “sizable losses caused by the pandemic.”

Claire Donnelly is WFAE's health reporter. She previously worked at NPR member station KGOU in Oklahoma and also interned at WBEZ in Chicago and WAMU in Washington, D.C. She holds a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University and attended college at the University of Virginia, where she majored in Comparative Literature and Spanish. Claire is originally from Richmond, Virginia. Reach her at cdonnelly@wfae.org or on Twitter @donnellyclairee.