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ECU calls on Vidant, County to reverse changes

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East Carolina University's Brody School of Medicine.

Dan Gerlach (1).jpg
Mark Stacy.jpg

The Daily Reflector

Monday, June 10, 2019

East Carolina University administrators on Monday called on Vidant Health and Pitt County to reverse governance changes they made for Vidant Medical Center without consulting the university.

The demand was issued in a campuswide email by Interim Chancellor Dan Gerlach and Dr. Mark Stacy, vice chancellor for health sciences and dean of the Brody School of Medicine. ECU administrators have been tight-lipped about the controversy since changes were made in April and ECU and the UNC System filed suit against Vidant and the county in May.

"We have been asked repeatedly for our position on Vidant Health’s efforts to change how the Vidant Medical Center board is selected, and the consequences of their decision," the letter, addressed to the "ECU Community," said. "We have preferred to work quietly and quickly to resolve differences, but it is now time to state our views."

The letter points out that Vidant officials and the Pitt County Board of Commissioners changed the medical center's governing bylaws without public discussion. The county board unanimously approved the changes on April 22 as part of the county manager's report.

“The plain fact is that Vidant Health and Pitt County acted behind closed doors to change how appointments are made to the Vidant Medical Center board,” the letter said. “No one at ECU/Brody was consulted or agreed to this change. This action violated the affiliation agreement that ECU and Brody have with Vidant and Pitt County. Their action broke an agreement that has been in place, in some form, for decades. We at ECU made the decision to protect our interests and engaged legal counsel to defend the agreement.”

The changes stripped the UNC System of its authority to make appointments to the Vidant Medical Center board. ECU and the UNC System filed suit against the county and Vidant on May 20 seek restoration of the authority — which they maintain is needed because the medical center is the teaching hospital of the Brody school of medicine and receives benefits as such. The suit also seeks damages and compensation to build a new teaching hospital if the authority is not restored.

A judge ordered the parties into mediation to negotiate a settlement. Since then, Vidant and UNC officials have traded news releases over allegations that UNC Health Care is planning to take over Vidant and a Vidant proposal on settling the mediation. The state Senate also included a provision in its version of the state budget that stripped Vidant Medical Center of a higher Medicaid reimbursement rate received by teaching hospitals.

"We want those Medicaid payments to stay in place," Monday's letter said. "The fastest way for that to happen is for Vidant and Pitt County to reverse their changes to the Board structure to comply with the affiliation agreement. It is entirely in their control and would ease concern of our communities and save time and money. We cannot afford further distraction or delay."

ECU administrators have declined to answer questions from The Daily Reflector and other news outlets about the controversy. Spokeswoman Jeannine Manning Hutson said Monday that Gerlach and Stacy are committed to communicating with the campus directly about important issues and decided to distribute the letter after hearing from many who feel passionately about the issue.

“This is a fight that ECU did not know about, start, invite or need," the letter said. "The court has directed mediation, the best way to handle concerns, and we are working with the parties to complete that process as soon as possible."

ECU wants the mediation to strengthen the long-term sustainability of the medical school and its mission to serve the health care needs of the state and the region, the letter said.

“Finally, there’s been a lot of discussion from other parties about what is good for ECU. We assure you that we are plenty capable of speaking for ourselves and our interests, and we will do so vigorously," the letter said.