Judge issues TRO in Vidant complaint
By Ginger Livingston
The Daily Reflector
Saturday, May 25, 2019
An Orange County judge on Friday granted a 10-day restraining order the prevents Vidant Medical Center and Pitt County from implementing a new governing agreement at the hospital.
The University of North Carolina and East Carolina University requested the order on Monday after the Pitt County Board of Commissioners and Vidant Health officials amended an agreement dictating how new members are appointed to the medical center Board of Trustees.
The changes took away the UNC Board of Governors’ ability to nominate nine members to the hospital’s board, an arrangement that has been in place since the mid-1970s when the facility became the teaching hospital for the Brody School of Medicine.
“We appreciate that the court determined that the UNC System and East Carolina University have shown a likelihood of success on the merits of our claims and that the Brody School of Medicine is likely to sustain irreparable harm unless a temporary restraining order is in place,” said Joshua Ellis, UNC spokesman. “This order will allow the parties to pause and evaluate what steps will be needed to preserve the long-standing partnership between ECU and Vidant, so that all parties may better serve the people of North Carolina.”
The complaint said the changes, made by Pitt County and Vidant last month, violate a 2013 agreement with the university system. It seeks a permanent injunction to void the changes. A hearing for a preliminary injunction is scheduled for Wednesday in Orange County.
If an injunction is not granted, the complaint demands monetary damages. It says funds in excess of $25,000 — the maximum amount a lawsuit can specify — will be required for the university system to build a new teaching hospital for the Brody School of Medicine.
Orange County Superior Court Judge Allen Baddour, who issued the temporary order, did not address a request from Vidant and Pitt County to change the venue of future proceedings, so they will continue Orange County.
“The balance of equities favors granting a temporary restraining order,” said the document signed by Baddour. “The immediate and irreparable harm to Plaintiffs (UNC and ECU) caused by the change in governance structure outweighs any possible harm caused by preserving the status quo prior to filing of the Articles of Amendments on April 24, 2019.”
The order further states that the hospital board and the Board of Commissioners cannot change the membership or makeup on the board during the period of the restraining order.
The order noted three vacancies on the hospital board are supposed to be filled by UNC appointments. One of the seats, Seat 5, is appointed through a special process. Baddour’s order said the person holding Seat 5 should remain on the board. Of the other two seats, one is vacant, and Baddour said it should remain vacant. The judge’s order did not specifically address the third vacancy.
“If other terms expire or other seats become vacant during the pendency of the Temporary Restraining Order, those VMC Board members shall also remain in holdover status,” the order stated.
Under the new amendments, the Vidant Health Board of Directors would nominate members to the nine seats formerly under the purview of the Board of Governors. The medical center trustees would approve the nominations. The Pitt County Board of Commissioners would continue to appoint members to the remaining 11 seats.
“We have not made any recent appointments or changes to the board,” a statement released by the hospital said. “The VMC board is not scheduled to meet until late July. There are two seats open that would have been filled by the UNC Board of Governors under the previous structure. There is also a third seat that would have been eligible for reappointment by the UNC Board of Governors.
“With the new structure, we would be able to appoint two ECU leaders to the VMC board,” according to the statement. “This would further strengthen our great relationship with ECU and ensure they are always at the table as we work together to care for the people of eastern North Carolina.”
Pitt County issued a statement that it was aware that the temporary restraining order had been issued but it had not received a copy of the order as one 4:55 p.m. Friday. Officials did not want to comment without reviewing the order.
Contact Ginger Livingston at firstname.lastname@example.org and 329-9570.