Vidant Health, ECU sign agreement to integrate physician practices

Partnership hopes to strengthen care to rural areas of eastern N.C.

Cliff Hollis —ECU News Service
ECU Chancellor Cecil Staton signs an agreement to join ECU Physicians with Vidant Medical Group. (Cliff Hollis —- ECU News Service)

GREENVILLE — — For people living in eastern North Carolina, a region vast with land and pockets of lower-income families, access to health care is at the forefront of their concerns.

As the result of a partnership between East Carolina University (ECU) and Vidant Health, more residents will have access to needed health care and specialized physicians, and medical students will train in areas with crucial need.

ECU and Vidant Health signed a formal agreement to integrate ECU Physicians, the clinical practice of The Brody School of Medicine at ECU, with Vidant Medical Group, Vidant’s multispecialty physician group subsidiary into the new entity created last year.

“The hard work and commitment of generations of leaders, combined with the visionary thinking and persistence of so many who serve this area today has borne fruit,” said ECU Chancellor Cecil Staton.

“This is an agreement forged from one idea: that together we can create a better way to deliver health care to even the most rural areas of eastern North Carolina,” he added. “The combination of skills from both organizations into one new entity flows naturally from a longstanding partnership. It also mirrors similar developments at other health care institutions across the country in response to significant changes in the health care landscape.”

The Brody School of Medicine enrolled its 40th four-year class in the fall of 2016, bringing the total enrollment to 320 students. Brody has graduated more than 2,300 physicians since its establishment, with approximately 1,400 of those currently in active practice across the state — in 83 of NC’s 100 counties — including many underserved and rural areas. In addition, 70 percent of Brody graduates who complete residency training at Vidant Medical Center in Greenville remain in North Carolina to practice.

The partnership is poised to be a win-win for the organizations and the people of North Carolina.

The new organization developed with the integration of ECU Physicians and Vidant Medical Group will focus on creating innovative systems and processes that reduce the cost for patients, increase access to new therapies and technologies, reduce the impact of chronic disease in the area, and expand the training sites available for medical students. In addition, a goal has been set to increase the opportunity for clinical trials that benefit rural areas.

Vidant Health serves more than 1.4 million people in eastern North Carolina. The not-for-profit system is made up of 12,000 employees, eight hospitals, home health, hospice, wellness centers, and Vidant Medical Group, a multispecialty physician and provider group with more than 420 providers in more than 80 practice sites in eastern North Carolina.

The combined expertise from ECU and Vidant Health brings the medical research capabilities and faculty expertise unique to ECU together with specialized clinical expertise and operational capabilities at Vidant Health in the 29 eastern North Carolina counties it serves.

“We have set ambitious goals to coordinate access, education, research and clinical trials that further enhance the missions of these two acclaimed organizations,” said Vidant CEO Dr. Michael Waldrum. “Our shared vision is to be the national model for rural health and wellness by creating a premier, trusted academic delivery system for the benefit of the people of eastern North Carolina.”

Both ECU and Vidant believe the new clinically integrated entity will be better able through its combined expertise —to respond to the changing health care environment.

“Health care across the country is experiencing incredible change, and with that change comes a lot of uncertainty,” said Waldrum. “Regardless of what happens on the national landscape, we are better positioned to care for patients, their families and the communities we serve if we do this important work together.”

The mission of both organizations, and the mission of the newly formed integrated physician entity, is about rural health care leadership, and we believe today’s announcement is a major step forward in ensuring we provide the very best care at the most affordable price.

The new company’s board, chaired by the dean of the medical school, includes six members appointed by Vidant and five by ECU. While financial risk and responsibility for the new entity rest with Vidant, the new entity is legally structured to operate in support of the mission of Brody School of Medicine. The medical school’s relationship with the UNC System and the state of North Carolina remains unchanged.

As part of the agreement, Vidant will make an initial $35 million payment to ECU and an annual $14.25 million mission support payment to Brody School of Medicine for the next 30 years. The new organization is expected to begin operations in 2018.

Among N.C.’s medical schools, Brody consistently has the highest retention rate of grads who stay in North Carolina to practice. The most recent study (2015) conducted by the NC AHEC Program with Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research reported that 62 percent of the Brody School of Medicine class of 2010 was practicing in-state, as compared to 35 percent from UNC Chapel Hill and even lower percentages from Duke and Wake Forest.