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ECU-Vidant march together into future

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East Carolina University Chancellor Cecil Staton, left, shakes hands with Dr. Nicholas Benson and Dr. Michael Waldrum before a press conference Wednesday after signing an agreement to integrate the physicians practices of the Brody School of Medicine and Vidant Health.

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Sunday, July 30, 2017

An agreement struck to integrate ECU Physicians and Vidant Medical Group no doubt will raise questions and concerns about the transfer of public interests to a private entity, the closed manner in which the deal was developed and the future of thousands of employees. However, we believe that the leaders who are moving forward with this initiative are doing so out of necessity and a sincere desire to benefit eastern North Carolina.

Officials with Vidant Health and East Carolina University signed the 100-page document to unify 80 Vidant and 25 ECU medical practices and combine thousands of employees under a single new company. The new nonprofit organization, currently called VECU Medical Group, will be governed by the leadership of both East Carolina and Vidant. ECU Physicians will transfer all of its state-owned property and assets to the new company, and Vidant will pay ECU an initial $35 million followed by annual payments of $14.25 million into an endowment to be directed by the chancellor.

The agreement does not alter the employment status and compensation of current Vidant employees, officials said, and the new corporation will offer employment to all the state workers employed by ECU Physicians — about 400 doctors and 700 other caregivers and support staff. Those who are not vested in the state retirement system may choose to move immediately. Others, according to the agreement, will have the option to be assigned to the VECU group while remaining under ECU employment in order to reach state retirement and benefit milestones — essentially they can be grandfathered.

East Carolina Chancellor Cecil Staton and Vidant Health Chief Executive Michael Waldrum in an interview with The Daily Reflector last week said they would treat all of the employees with fairness and respect during the transition, which could take up to 18 months. They must take that approach because their endeavor requires a dedicated and enthusiastic workforce for it to be successful, they said. To treat their workforce poorly would be self defeating. That is sound logic and good business sense.

What the two entities are doing, however, is about more than business. It is about continuing the kind of research that has provided the area world class treatment of cardiovascular illness, cancer and even obesity. It is about training top notch doctors, nurses and therapists for the future at a cost among the lowest anywhere. And it is about providing health care to tens of thousands of east Carolinians, including those among us who are least able to afford its high cost. 

Vidant and ECU for decades have been the health care of last resort for the thousands of poor in the region who have no place else to turn. That in part is what has necessitated the merger. People who can’t pay are numerous, the providers have received less in the way of reimbursement from public and private insurers, and support from state and federal government doesn’t fill gaps. ECU in particular has struggled to stay in the black.

Together, the leaders of ECU and Vidant say they can face such challenges more successfully and deliver care in the most cost efficient manner. That does not necessarily mean doing more with less, the leaders said, but service at a greater value will allow them to deliver even better service to more people, which may in turn provide jobs for even more service providers.

Their progress at keeping their promises certainly should be scrutinized, but the history of how well these institutions have buoyed the region should earn them some measure of trust and confidence that they will deliver.

 

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