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BYH, some see the glass as half empty. I say just get a smaller glass and quit complaining....

Vidant, UNC make their cases with the public

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By Ginger Livingston
The Daily Reflector

Saturday, June 1, 2019

UNC Health Care and Vidant Health are offering differing interpretations of a 2018 confidential report examining the state’s health care marketplace.

Vidant said the report shows a “behind the scenes” attempt to take over its facilities. UNC said such studies are routine and the health care system has no plan to acquire Vidant Health.

Meanwhile, the state Senate on Friday took its final vote on its $24 billion budget which includes cuts to Vidant Health related to its dispute with the UNC System.

Vidant Health released a statement shortly before 9 a.m. on Friday citing news reports about documents “confirming the University of North Carolina System has been actively working behind the scenes to take over Vidant and ECU Physicians.”

The Carolina Journal identified the documents as a confidential report prepared by a health care investment bank last year that examined the health care services marketplace in North Carolina and the state of health and medical education and research. The document includes financial projections involving possible mergers with Vidant Health and other hospital systems in and out of North Carolina.

“It is part of a coordinated effort by outside interests and Raleigh politicians to ‘take dominant position in governance, deal terms, etc.’ in eastern North Carolina,” stated the release, which was not attributed to any Vidant administrators.

“Despite this and many false narratives, the affiliation agreement with the Brody School of Medicine has always been and continues to be in effect,” the statement said. “In fact, Vidant continues to support the education of medical students, residents and other health care providers, including Pirate nurses. The significant financial support from Vidant to Brody continues.”

UNC Health Care spokeswoman Lisa Schiller said hospital systems frequently look at “potential partners.”

“The leaked document was prepared by a consulting firm hired by the UNC Board of Governors to illustrate and educate them on what the consolidating health care market might look like in the future. It was not prepared to evaluate partners or to pursue new partners,” Schiller said.

“UNC Health Care has no plan, secret or otherwise, to acquire or partner with Vidant Health. Even if there were plans, secrecy would be impossible,” she said. “A combination of UNC Health Care and Vidant Health would require the approval of multiple public entities and boards. It would also require a public bidding process under state law.”

Schiller said UNC Health Care officials have had “numerous” conversations with Vidant Health CEO Michael Waldrum and the leadership team about working together on health care issues but none of the talks involves mergers or takeovers.

“In addition, Mike Waldrum has talked with the UNC System and members of the Board of Governors in the past about the possibility of combining with UNC Health Care,” Schiller said. “Based on these conversations, UNC Health Care has never pursued it. As the rapid pace of health care changes, we wish Vidant Health success as they negotiate this landscape.”

When asked about Schiller’s statement, a Vidant spokesman said officials had no other comments and referred to the earlier statement which began with, “The people of eastern North Carolina are under attack by Raleigh politicians, putting health care for millions and thousands of jobs at significant risk in 29 counties.”

This week the state Senate included a provision in its budget that would strip Vidant Medical Center of the Medicaid reimbursements it receives because it is the Brody School of Medicine’s teaching hospital. The provision said Vidant would receive the same Medicaid reimbursements as other private hospitals.

The move came one week after UNC and East Carolina University sued Vidant and the Pitt County government for approving changes that ended the UNC Board of Governor’s ability to appoint members to the hospital board, a power granted because Vidant is ECU Brody School of Medicine’s teaching hospital.

On Tuesday, just as the Senate unveiled its budget proposals, UNC, Vidant and their respective partners agreed to enter mediation to resolve the dispute.

UNC System spokesman Josh Ellis said administrators view mediation “as the best way to resolve the concerns of all parties and to provide a stable platform for medical education and health care in eastern North Carolina,” adding, “We look forward to hearing Vidant’s concerns, as well as resolving problems that have arisen in the relationship between with Vidant and its support of the Brody School of Medicine."

Along with the budget provision, Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger’s office confirmed unnamed Senate leaders were discussing revoking Vidant’s status as a teaching hospital and building a teaching hospital in Greenville.

“We all know here in the East that is not the right thing to do,” Vidant’s statement said. “We will continue to engage in discussions including mediation and work with those who want to support health care and communities in the East, but we will also continue to strongly resist efforts to tear it apart.”

Vidant estimates the Senate’s cut would eliminate $35 million for its operating budget on top of an anticipated $38 million funding loss because of changes to the State Health Plan.

“Vidant is facing a total of $73 million in cuts from Raleigh politicians. These cuts by elected officials are retaliation due to governance changes; those changes are designed to keep health care in the hands of those who care the most about eastern North Carolina,” according to Vidant.

“We are also aware of Vidant’s concerns about proposed state budgets currently being considered by the General Assembly,” Ellis said. “We continue to believe that the best path forward for Vidant, Pitt County and East Carolina University would be to honor the long-standing partnership that has served eastern North Carolina well for more than 40 years and to fully restore the governance structure all parties had agreed to in the affiliation agreement.”

Vidant said it “will continue to fight for the communities we love, which includes some of the most underserved in the state.”

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

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