ECU and Vidant Health strike a deal, resolving dispute over Greenville hospital’s board

The UNC System, East Carolina University, Pitt County government and Vidant Health have reached an agreement that resolves a months-long legal battle over who serves on the board of Vidant Medical Center in Greenville.

The medical facility is the flagship for the private hospital system that serves residents in Eastern North Carolina. It’s also the teaching hospital for medical students at East Carolina.

Vidant and the state have been at odds over the makeup of the hospital’s governing board since May, when the university system learned that Vidant had amended its incorporation papers on file at the N.C. Secretary of State’s office, removing the UNC Board of Governors’ appointments.

Under the new agreement, the dean of ECU’s Brody School of Medicine and the ECU chancellor will fill two of the 20 seats on the board. Seven other seats will be nominated by a Vidant Board of Trustees nominating committee, then approved by the UNC Board of Governors.

The other 11 seats on the board are appointed by Pitt County leaders.

The dean of ECU’s medical school currently serves as an ex-officio, non-voting member of the Vidant Health Board, which is separate from the hospital’s board, and will continue in that role.

In addition to the makeup of the hospital board, the chief executive officer for Vidant Health will serve as an official, designated liaison to the ECU Board of Trustees Health Sciences Committee. And a financial consultant will assess the financial relationship between the Brody School of Medicine and Vidant Medical Center.

“We are pleased that the structural alignment decisions have been completed, so we can focus on our shared mission of becoming a national model for rural health and wellness,” Dr. Mark Stacy, vice chancellor for health sciences and dean of the Brody School of Medicine, said in a statement.

Randy Ramsey, chairman of the UNC System Board of Governors, said the agreement honors the partnership between the institutions and recognizes the vital role the Vidant hospital plays in “ensuring quality health care for eastern North Carolina and future generations of medical professionals for all of North Carolina.”

Vidant said earlier this year that it had received permission from the Pitt County Board of Commissioners to amend the incorporation papers and that it was in the best interest of the hospital to limit control of the board to local decision-makers.

UNC then sued Vidant, and a judge issued a halt to the change, agreeing with UNC’s position that its right to appoint members to the board was spelled out in the agreement that had designated the facility as the teaching hospital for ECU’s Brody School of Medicine.

Using the hospital that way precluded the state building a teaching hospital for ECU that would have competed with the existing hospital.

The hospital began in the 1920s as the non-profit Pitt County Hospital, which grew and moved several times. Construction on the building at the present site, near ECU, began in 1974, and the next year, the hospital and Brody Medical School signed a joint agreement.

Members of the Pitt County’s board voted to privatize the hospital in the late 1990s, putting it under the umbrella of what was then called University Health Systems. The company later became known as Vidant Health, and renamed the hospital Vidant Medical Center.

The hospital has 974 beds, serving 1.4 million people across 29 counties, according to its website.

After Vidant moved to kick UNC’s appointees off its board, state legislators threatended to withhold about $35 million worth of Medicaid reimbursements to the hospital, which they regarded as a perk other hospitals don’t get. Lawmakers also discussed the possibility of building a separate teaching hospital for ECU’s medical school, which would compete with Vidant Medical Center.

The state has estimated that would cost $500 million.

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Kate Murphy covers higher education for The News & Observer. Previously, she covered higher education for the Cincinnati Enquirer on the investigative and enterprise team and USA Today Network. Her work has won state awards in Ohio and Kentucky and she was recently named a 2019 Education Writers Association finalist for digital storytelling.
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