ENC senator said Senate wants Vidant governance changes resolved
By Ginger Livingston
The Daily Reflector
Sunday, June 2, 2019
Reported discussions among Senate leaders about building a teaching hospital for the Brody School of Medicine, independent of Vidant Medical Center are just “chatter,” said one eastern North Carolina legislator.
Sen. Bob Steinburg, R-Chowan, whose 11-county district is served by three of Vidant Health’s eight hospitals, said legislators were concerned when Vidant leaders and Pitt County commissioners ended the University of North Carolina Board of Governors’ ability to appoint members to the hospital’s board of trustees.
“I think it’s nothing more than chatter. I can only speak for myself … but if this was a very serious initiative, I can assure you I would be aware of it,” Steinburg said. “I think other eastern North Carolina legislators would be aware of it.”
Pitt County Sen. Don Davis also can’t believe senator leaders are floating the idea of building a new hospital.
“It makes absolutely no sense to talk about revoking Vidant’s status as the teaching hospital for the medical school,” Davis said. “Every single year we are fighting to fund our medical school; now they are talking about building a new teaching hospital when they have inadequately funded the medical school?
“I think taxpayers will see through that and see what it is,” he said.
Even if the construction discussion is nothing more than “pie-in-the-sky chatter,” Steinburg said, Vidant officials should move quickly to resolve the conflict. He believes restoring the nominating powers of the Board of Governors is the best solution.
Steinburg spoke after the Senate on Thursday voted down Davis’ efforts to remove language from the Senate budget that cuts the Medicaid reimbursements that Vidant Medical Center receives for being the Brody School of Medicine’s teaching hospital. Vidant’s connection to the medical school is why the Board of Governors has nominated individuals to the hospital’s Board of Trustees. It gave the UNC System oversight of investments it made so that Vidant could function as a teaching hospital.
The UNC Board of Governors have nominated individuals to Vidant Medical Center’s governing board since the hospital became the teaching institution for the Brody School of Medicine.
The Pitt County Board of Commissioners, the hospital’s board of trustees and the board of directors of Vidant Health — the hospital’s parent company — approved amendments to its articles of incorporation that ended UNC’s appointment powers. The hospital’s trustees will make the appointments from a list of candidates recommended by Vidant Health’s board.
Shortly after the amended articles were filed with the Secretary of State’s office, UNC and East Carolina University filed suit against the hospital and county government, seeking to reverse the action.
On Tuesday, the two parties agreed to enter mediation to settle their differences. As a judge was finalizing the order, the state Senate released its budget which contained directions to end Medicaid payments Vidant received for acting as the medical school’s teaching hospital. The legislation said Vidant would receive the same Medicaid reimbursement as other private hospitals. Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger’s office confirmed there were discussions about building a new teaching hospital but the senators leading the discussion never were identified.
During a radio interview, Vidant Health CEO Dr. Michael Waldrum said he believed UNC Health Care wanted to take over the hospital and Vidant Health. Several media outlets then reported receiving documents that showed the UNC Health Care researched a merger with Vidant and other health care systems.
A UNC Health Care spokeswoman said that while a study was conducted to examine the state’s health care services market, there are no plans to seek a merger.
Davis’ amendment to remove the change in Medicaid reimbursements died when a substitute amendment was entered and approved. The vote on the substitute motion fell along party lines, with only one Republican, Sen. Rick Horner, voting against it.
Davis, in his speech from the Senate floor, anticipated such a maneuver.
“They didn’t fail to disappoint with a maneuver that they believe people won’t see through it,” he said on Friday.
The vote on the substitute amendment that killed his amendment was a test for senators representing eastern Carolina counties, Davis said. The Democratic senator argued “Eastern North Carolina again is under attack” because of the proposed budget cut.
“This was a very test of the heart, the soul of all of us and not putting politics and maneuvering over the people of eastern North Carolina,” Davis said. “Every member had a choice, had an option. I tried to make a plea to allow their hearts, their souls, their conscience to guide them.”
Steinburg said people should not read too much into one vote.
“Sen. Davis, who is a great guy, I love Don Davis, his impassioned plea did not fall upon deaf ears,” he said.
Steinburg’s Senate District 1 encompasses Camden, Chowan, Currituck, Dare, Hertford, Hyde, Pasquotank, Perquimans, Tyrrell and Washington counties. Vidant hospitals in Ahoskie, Edenton and Nags Head and in those counties. Steinburg is quick to point out that Vidant Chowan Hospital is one of the largest employers in his home county.
“It’s the first act of a three-act play,” Steinburg said. “A lot has happened as a result of this. I believe Vidant has gone back to the negotiating table and that’s what we want, everyone at the table.”
The General Assembly shouldn’t be intervening in a situation that is in mediation, Davis said.
“I describe it as bullying,” he said. “Why would you intervene when there is mediation taking place? It almost appears you are dangling dollars out there and saying if you do not comply, in other words restore these appointments, ... we are going to punish you by changing the reimbursement for the hospital of our medical school. That’s how I see it.
“Frankly, it gets me upset and I see a lot of other people upset by this,” Davis said. This is not how we should be conducting politics in Raleigh.”
Steinburg said the action may appear punitive but it was needed to illustrate the concerns the General Assembly has about the actions taken by Vidant and the Pitt County Board of Commissioners.
He said there wasn’t enough transparency in the process.
The Senate on Friday took its final vote on the budget. The House is expected to deliver a “non concur” vote early next week and a conference committee will be formed to hammer out the differences in the two chambers’ budgets to deliver a final document to the governor.
House Democrats, including Rep. Kandie Smith, D-Pitt, and five other eastern North Carolina representatives, on Friday criticized the Senate’s action. They said not only should Vidant’s Mediciad reimbursements remain untouched, but Medicaid expansion should be added to the final budget.
“Expanding Medicaid will close the coverage gap for hundreds of thousands of eastern North Carolina citizens and bring thousands of health care jobs. No region of the state will benefit more than us,” stated the representatives’ news release. “It’s past time we join our neighbors in southeastern Virginia in expanding Medicaid and bringing the federal dollars we send to D.C. back to eastern North Carolina.”
Contact Ginger Livingston at email@example.com or 252-329-9570.