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Deadline extended for finalizing 'Project Unify'

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Dr. Mark Stacy

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By Ginger Livingston
The Daily Reflector

Saturday, November 3, 2018

A final decision on merging the region’s largest health care providers has been postponed, East Carolina University’ Board of Trustees learned Friday.

However, efforts to finalize the merger still are underway as North Carolina’s state treasurer reviews portions of the proposal, said Dr. Mark Stacy, dean of the Brody School of Medicine and chairman of the committee overseeing the merger.

Friday’s meeting of the trustees also saw the board unanimously approve increases in the dental school’s tuition and in fees and charges for the 2019-20 school year.

Stacy provided an update on Project Unify, the effort to merge the medical practices of Vidant Health Systems and ECU’s Brody School of Medicine, at the Thursday meeting of the Board of Trustees’ Health Science Committee.

The committee overseeing the merger process said earlier this year that the Project Unify transition process would be finalized by Jan. 1, according to an article in The Daily Reflector.

“We continue to work like we were, as close as possible, so we can do this quickly,” Stacy said in a later interview.

“The final blending into a new company, we are awaiting for some guidance from the state in terms of our bond issues,” Stacy said. “We have state-issued bonds as part of ECU.”

If the merger takes place, the bonds will have to be converted, he said, so local officials are waiting on a report from the state treasurer.

They also are working on benefit details for employees of ECU Physicians, who are state employees.

Michael Waldrum, CEO of Vidant Health, released a statement on Friday afternoon.

“The treasurer’s delay in rendering a decision on the conversion of bonds is unfortunate and disappointing,” Waldrum said. “The treasurer is fully aware that Project Unify is a financially sound, technically feasible and prudent step for the state. These facts led to the endorsement of Project Unify by the Vidant Health Board, ECU Board of Trustees and UNC Board of Governors.

“Unfortunately, until we can determine if there is a reasonable path forward in partnership with East Carolina University, the Brody School of Medicine and the State of North Carolina, Project Unify is on hold,” Waldrum said.

“We will continue to work in partnership with ECU to find solutions that help ECU BSOM and Vidant Health serve the region,” he said. “Additionally, at the same time that he has failed to act on Project Unify, the treasurer has announced very large and arbitrary cuts to physicians and hospitals across the state. These actions are detrimental to the health and well-being of the citizens of eastern N.C. and will have significant negative impacts on both Vidant Health and ECU physicians.”

The fee changes approved by the board include a $50 annual increase in the student athletics fee and annual $8 increase for both the education and technology and student center operations fees.

The athletics fee increase, which originally was proposed to be a $75 hike, generated controversy among graduate students and some underclassmen. The Student Government Association proposed a $50 fee as a compromise between no fee increase and $75.

While the three fees equal a $66 annual increase,that amount is being offset because a $15 fee to pay off the student recreation center debt ends this year, resulting in a $51 net increase.

Other trustee-approved changes included a $1,000 increase in the School of Dental Medicine tuition and a $233 an­nual in­crease in the fee for den­tal elec­tronic text­books. Meal plan and parking fee costs also will increase.

The undergraduate application fee is being reduced to $60 from $75. But a new $35 readmission fee was approved.

Chancellor Cecil Staton reported on the university’s work in the wake of Hurricane Florence which Gov. Roy Cooper said earlier this week caused $17 billion in damage to the state.

“I want us to celebrate what ours, our faculty and our alumni as well as our staff have done,” Staton said.

The university police department had officers assisting the universities in Pembroke and Wilmington and in the city of New Bern, Staton said. Brody School of Medicine students volunteered at shelters.

More than 120,000 tons of food, water and supplies were collected in drives sponsored by various organizations. Staton said out of that amount 40,000 tons were collected in three days by freshman Michael Hinson of Wake Forest, who then connected with Operation Airdrop to deliver the supplies to communities cut off by flooded roads, Staton said.

The university secured a $179,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to monitor groundwater contamination is 300 rural households in Sampson and Duplin counties, he said.

About 900 ECU students reported their families endured major damage, Staton said. The majority have returned to school because of assistance they received.

Staton also reported that as of Oct. 30, ECU’s comprehensive campaign to raise $500 million has reached $196 million. He said a significant gift that would be announced in several weeks should place that amount over the $200 million mark.

Contact Ginger Livingston at glivingston@reflector.com or 252-329-9570.

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