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Vidant/ECU board planning transition strategies

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Michael Waldrum, Vidant Health CEO, speaks during a VECU meeting on Dec. 13, 2017. (Molly Mathis/The Daily Reflector)


By Michael Abramowitz
The Daily Reflector

Thursday, December 14, 2017

With about a year left before its official debut, the transition process from two independent medical practices to one unified group continues between Vidant Health and ECU Physicians.

The VECU Medical Group — the name being used for the combined Vidant and ECU physician practices — met Wednesday for its monthly meeting, chaired by Dr. Mark Stacy, dean of the Brody School of Medicine at ECU.

The board was formed after the two institutions signed an integration agreement on July 26, to take effect Dec. 31, 2018. Chaired by the BSOM Dean, members include Dr. Elizabeth Baxley, Brody senior associate dean for academic affairs; Dr. Nicholas Benson, Brody School vice dean and medical director of ECU Physicians; Dan Drake, Vidant Medical Group senior vice president; Vidant Medical Center President Brian Floyd; ECU Vice Chancellor Phyllis Horns; David Hughes, Vidant chief financial officer; Janet Mullaney, Vidant chief administrative officer; Rick Niswander, ECU vice chancellor for administration and finance; Roger Robertson, Vidant Health president of community hospitals; and Dr. Michael Waldrum, Vidant CEO. ECU Chancellor Cecil Staton is a non-voting member.

Teams have been formed and are working on branding strategy, closing options, financial operations, human resources issues and operational planning, including management structure and clinical operations, Jacob Parrish, Vidant Health vice president for systems and procedures, told the board members.

Niswander and Hughes are heading the planning of financial operations.

“As we turn the engine on, we need to make sure that parameters are in place to be sure it’s humming,” Parrish said. “What will the general ledger look like,what does the accounting structure need to look like and all other financial operations decisions need to be made up front, outside of any clinical operations, which can be matched to whatever financial decisions need to be made.”

Those recommendations have yet to be made by that planning group, Parrish said.

Other activities being addressed include facility inventory information systems’ transition and research, Parrish said.

VECU has approved hiring three consultant firms to help with the transitions of non-physician staff compensation, employee benefits and retirement plans. The total cost is $200,000 plus travel expenses. Another consultant is being scrutinized to help create a culture strategy for the new medical practice entity, Parrish said.

Board member Rick Niswander said the current federal tax reform bill, still in process by Congress, leaves uncertain the status of the group’s private activity bonds.The conversion of the bonds will depend on the outcome of that legislation, Niswander said.

“As a result, we’re exploring and studying various options, so regardless of which way the decision goes, we’ll be prepared to take appropriate action,” he said.

Other challenges must be met, Stacy said. The status of the state’s setoff debt collection act — which allows certain state agencies to collect debts from state tax refunds or other state earnings — the Medicaid upper payment limit — which allows the medical school to access matching federal Medicaid funds — and completion of due diligence top the list.

Developing a communication strategy is key to the engagement of all transition team members, Parrish said.

Waldrum said that Stacy’s January address to the Brody School will be an ideal opportunity to kick off a new communication strategy, particularly important for answering questions about what changes will happen and when they will occur.

Following the board meeting, Stacy said he’s learned about the differences in structure and culture between the two entities.

“We’ve had to learn the differences in each other’s communication chains, part of the reason we’ve had discussions about how to integrate the best of these two cultures,” Stacy said. “It’s important that we learn that we do trust each other, and when we sit in a room we have frank and open discussions in an easy way, even about difficult issues. But we don’t always have the same way of communicating that message to others.”

Contact Michael Abramowitz at mabramowitz@reflector.com or 252-329-9507.