BizWorthy: Hospitals Battle For Beds, MLS Money Questions And Amazon's Data Files

Dec 19, 2019

One symptom of Charlotte's growth is an increased demand on hospitals. The state has approved 76 additional beds in Mecklenburg County to accommodate that growth, and Atrium and Novant are vying for them. It's up to the state to decide which hospitals get them. This week, regulators heard from doctors and county residents on the subject. In this week's BizWorthy, Tony Mecia of the Charlotte Ledger Business Newsletter joins us to break this down and talk about this week's other business news -- including soccer.

Lisa Worf: Where in the county are we seeing the highest demand for hospital beds?

Tony Mecia: Atrium and Novant have submitted these applications that are hundreds of pages long, just detailing where they see the needs are. And Atrium is is saying that they're really all over, that the most acute need for these hospital beds is at its Carolinas Medical Center campus in Dilworth/Myers Park, where they say it's the biggest need in the state for hospital beds.

But they're also seeing a lot of need in University City. They want to open up a new hospital in Cornelius. Their facility down in Pineville. So they're literally saying all over they'd like to add these beds.

Worf: And they want all the beds then, all 76?

Mecia: The state has said there's a need for 76 beds. Atrium would like all 76. Novant says, "Hang on a second. We actually need beds too. Our facility down in Mathews is growing like gangbusters, pulling in a lot of people from Union County, a lot of people from the southern part of Mecklenburg County." So the state's going to have to resolve that. Those are sort of incompatible plans.

Worf: And you broke down which hospitals are having surpluses, as far as beds, and which ones are seeing a real need for them. How did that translate to what they're asking for?

Mecia: Yeah, it's sort of interesting because Atrium's argument for wanting all 76 of those beds is that, "Hey, look, Novant is not generating the demand for the beds that Atrium is generating. And so since we, Atrium, are generating the demand, we should get all of the beds." And so the state's projections actually show that Novant in 2022 does have a surplus of beds at some of its locations, in its new facility in Mint Hill and a couple others. So Atrium says they would like all those beds because of these Novant surpluses. Novant says, "Hey, these projections don't necessarily tell the full story. We see real needs in Matthews. We have people who are in the emergency room waiting for beds. It's not ideal to have them recover in the emergency room. We need to move them into standard hospital beds."

Worf: Now, the state held a hearing this week. Who attended it and what did people have to say?

Mecia: So this was a hearing that was held on Monday before state regulators in which you have both Atrium and Novant making their cases for how the beds should be allocated. You also had your sort of ordinary citizens that showed up to realize some of their experiences and how they've been affected by some of the growth in the area and how they are seeing the need for hospital beds throughout the county.

Worf: Why can't hospitals just make the call themselves about adding hospital beds and operating rooms, add them if they want to? Why does the state get involved with this?

Mecia: Yeah, that's a great question. They have a very controlled process in which they make sure that the needs are actually there so that hospitals aren't just building a bunch of stuff they don't need and passing the costs along to consumers.

Worf: We had the big official announcement this week that Charlotte is getting Major League Soccer, but there's still a whole lot we don't know about this deal. What questions do you still have about this?

Mecia: Well, you know, despite this big press conference the other day, you know, there are still a lot of questions about the finances of this deal. And is there really a deal or is it just sort of a deal to reach a deal down the road -- which is sort of sounding (like) what it is. Throughout this whole process, especially the last few weeks, a lot of this, you know, the city council has held these discussions behind closed doors, which they are allowed to do. If it's economic development, they're allowed to, you know, to talk about it in private. And so the details have sort of been left to kind of leak out.

But after this press conference the other day, you had a council member and you had the mayor come out and say, "Actually, the deal is just to set aside this $110 million. We, the city, haven't committed $110 million. We're just setting it aside, not spending it. And we'll figure out the deals in good faith with David Tepper and in full transparency, public hearings, public input." So the question really is, what is that money going to be spent for? How is it going to be spent? Is it legitimately a good deal for the city? It's not like the answers to those are known and we just don't know them. It's just those details, it sounds like, haven't really been worked out.

Worf: Talking about economic development: many people in Charlotte are still smarting after the city didn't even make it into Amazon's top 20 for new Amazon headquarters. But this week you reported on one of the economic developers who helped put together Charlotte's deal. He thinks Amazon had ulterior motives with asking all cities for their best pitch. What was his theory?

Mecia: Well, it was really interesting. Ronnie Bryant on a podcast that was dropped last week -- Cardinal Insights podcast, which was done by a local real estate land broker in town. Ronnie Bryant, who was the head of the Charlotte Regional Partnership, which spearheaded the effort to try to get Amazon, put together a very comprehensive proposal in less than a month. He came out on that podcast and he said that he is under the impression that it wasn't just an actual competition for Amazon, but that Amazon was trying to gather a bunch of information on different cities about their different economic incentive packages, about how desperate and how willing they are to hand over economic incentives, because Amazon is building up a bunch of these fulfillment centers, a bunch of these warehouses all over the place. And that that's information that is very valuable to Amazon.

Ronnie Bryant: They now have the most extensive database of community information in the world of U.S. communities. Two hundred and thirty-eight of us gave them everything. And then 20 gave them even more.

Worf: And this isn't just a theory of Ronnie Bryant's, apparently. You were saying that other people have come up with this?

Mecia: It had been mentioned in media reports in the last couple of years since that whole Amazon expedition for a second headquarters. Data nowadays is very valuable. And now Amazon basically has essentially what are dossiers on more than 200 different cities, and a lot of statistics the cities considered to be confidential.

Worf: That's the Charlotte Ledgers' Tony Mecia. Thanks, Tony.

Mecia: Thanks, Lisa.

Correction: An earlier version of this transcript indicated Atrium wanted to open a new hospital in Mooresville. That's not the case. It's Cornelius where Atrium wants to open a hospital.  

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