ECU Health seeks to be ‘model for rural academic health care’

Published 5:13 pm Saturday, November 20, 2021

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The UNC Board of Governors gave unanimous approval Thursday to the joint operating agreement between East Carolina University’s Brody School of Medicine and Vidant Health, marking what Chairman Randy Ramsey called a “monumental day for health care in eastern North Carolina.”

The board’s approval officially allows the organizations to create ECU Health. That shared brand will launch in 2022. Brody School of Medicine and Vidant Health will retain their separate legal entities, according to a press release. Most Vidant and ECU Physicians entities — including Vidant Beaufort Hospital in Washington — will operate under the ECU Health brand. The employment status and benefits of current employees won’t be affected, and no assets are exchanged as part of the agreement.

The organizations said some of the purposes of the clinical integration between ECU and Vidant include streamlining the health care experience for patients in eastern North Carolina, increasing the efficiency of clinical staff usage across the system, facilitating new strategies to address prevalent health needs in the region, and establishing a shared leadership and governance structure for ECU Health.

Dr. Michael Waldrum, chief executive officer of Vidant Health and dean of the Brody School of Medicine, said ECU Health will “set the standard and be a national model for rural health care delivery.

“Our vision is to be a model for rural academic health care,” Waldrum said Thursday. “This allows us to create a rural academic population that educates a future workforce and does research across eastern North Carolina.

“It extends a lot of the great capabilities Brody School of Medicine has into our region,” Waldrum added. “So that’s an exciting aspect of it. So having the opportunity to have medical students and residents not just in Greenville, but in many of our communities; that, we hope, will help us recruit and retain professionals into those communities. Because like (in Beaufort County), we have great cities and we think if we expose students to those environments, they’re more likely to want to stay and live and create their careers there.”

ECU and Vidant initially announced their plans to clinically integrate in June.

According to Vidant’s website, the health system reaches more than 1.4 million people across 29 counties. Vidant operates nine community hospitals, including Vidant Beaufort, as well as various specialty facilities throughout the region.

“(The agreement) will build on some of the work we’ve done historically, but then it will accelerate — so we have groups of our professionals that look at how do we meet certain critical needs that our communities face,” Waldrum said. “So if it’s maternal care, heart failure, you name it. We have professionals who look at how do we build this system of care to meet those needs.

“Having everybody in one organization, with one set of objectives and strategies, will just allow us to do that better together.”