Opinion: Bill Roper without equal in contributions to health care in North Carolina

Bill Roper, who has led UNC Health Care and the UNC School of Medicine, will be the interim president of the UNC system.
Bill Roper, who has led UNC Health Care and the UNC School of Medicine, will be the interim president of the UNC system. The News & Observer

As former chairs of the UNC Health Care Board of Directors, we would like to thank Dr. Bill Roper for his unparalleled, decades-long dedication to improving the health of the people of North Carolina.

Dr. Roper recently announced he will step down as CEO of UNC Health Care, dean of the UNC School of Medicine and UNC Vice Chancellor for Medical Affairs. We wish him well, and while we are sad to see him step down next May, we are very pleased that his legacy will live on through the many physicians who were educated in our School of Medicine and the hundreds of thousands of patients whose lives were improved by our care.

Dr. Roper began his tenure with UNC-Chapel Hill in 1997, serving as dean of the UNC School of Public Health. He continued his work to improve North Carolinians’ health as he assumed his current duties in 2004. Under his leadership, UNC Health Care has evolved into a nationally recognized academic health care system, comprising more than a dozen hospitals, 30,000 employees and nearly $5 billion in annual revenue.

Dr. Roper has taken a holistic, statewide approach to improving medical education in North Carolina. Working with medical leaders across the state, he has helped make it possible for medical students to train in Asheville, Charlotte and Wilmington. In total, the UNC School of Medicine trains 2,400 inter-professional health care providers and medical students each year, with a significant portion remaining in the state.

It is not hyperbole to say that Bill Roper has had a national and even global impact on health care. The UNC School of Medicine has benefitted greatly from a 50 percent increase in research funding since his arrival in 2004. Last year alone, the school received $441 million, leading to new therapies, treatments and the development of cutting-edge medical devices.

North Carolina has benefited from Bill Roper’s expertise as a national public health thought leader, a practicing physician, academic leader and CEO, a true renaissance man. While we may be biased in our praise for Dr. Roper, it is worth noting that he has also been recognized objectively for his vision, twice being named one of the “100 Most Influential People in Health Care” by Modern Healthcare magazine. Under his leadership, multiple specialties at the UNC Medical Center in Chapel Hill are consistently ranked in US News’ “Best Hospitals” rankings. In 2018, the School of Medicine’s Primary Care Program was ranked No. 1 in the United States.

As a health care advocate, Bill Roper is well known for taking on the state’s mental health challenges and providing solutions such as the expansion of UNC WakeBrook, a Raleigh facility for the treatment of mental health, behavioral and substance abuse issues. In recent months, Dr. Roper volunteered the services and resources of UNC Health Care to provide the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) with a collaborative assessment of the current state of mental health care provided by DHHS.

Not only does Bill Roper regularly speak out about the need for improved access to care, especially in rural areas, he takes action. When Eden's Morehead Memorial Hospital was in bankruptcy and in danger of closing its doors, Dr. Roper and his management team acquired the facility, committed to significant investments in hospital upgrades and relaunched it as UNC Rockingham Health Care.

Bill Roper’s contributions to UNC-Chapel Hill, UNC Health Care and most importantly, the people of North Carolina, are without equal. We thank him for his tireless work on behalf of the State of North Carolina and the millions of patients positively affected by the medical research and treatment he has championed. We look forward to his continued leadership over the next year.

This letter was signed by Tim Burnett of Greensboro, Jim Hyler of Asheville, Dale Jenkins of Raleigh, Dick Krasno of Chapel Hill, Bill McCoy of Chapel Hill and Charlie Sanders of Durham.