UNC Health Care will partner with Carolinas HealthCare System

UNC Health Care announced Thursday it will partner with Carolinas HealthCare System.The two entities signed a letter of intent to join their clinical, medical education and research resources.

Carolinas HealthCare supports health care and wellness programs throughout North and South Carolina. UNC Health Care integrates UNC Hospitals and its provider network, UNC Faculty Physicians, UNC Physicians Network, the clinical patient care programs of the UNC School of Medicine and nine other hospitals and hospital systems across North Carolina. 

The partnership plans to focus on four strategic areas: increasing access and affordability, advancing clinical care expertise, growing their renowned academic enterprise and contributing to the region’s economic vibrancy, according to a press release. 

William Roper, dean of the UNC School of Medicine, CEO of UNC Health Care and future executive chair of the new organization, said in a joint statement from the two systems that combining the two mission-focused organizations will benefit patients.

“By integrating our organizations, we are combining the strengths of two great health systems, providing greater access to a full range of services and leading-edge treatments for patients, enabling better coordination of care and advancing research,” he said.

Nortin Hadler, professor of medicine and microbiology and immunology at the UNC School of Medicine, said health care partnerships have a bad track record.

“I don’t think there’s going to be any improvement in health care or distribution of health care or decrease in the maldistribution of health care or benefits for the poor,” he said.

Hadler believes the organizations partnered because of greed.

“The reason we have a health care system is caring about the health of individuals," he said. "And as far as we can tell by every outcome measured that one can find, we are in sad shape in that regard."

Gene Woods, current president and CEO of Carolinas HealthCare System and future CEO of the new entity, said in the statement that because the two organizations already serve almost 50 percent of all patients who visit rural hospitals in North Carolina, the groups are perfectly positioned to participate in the reinvention of rural healthcare in partnership with others. 

“Ensuring there is great healthcare in rural counties is not only important to our patients’ physical wellbeing, but is also vital to the economic wellbeing of those communities as well,” he said. 

Woods said the two organizations will also work together to transform cancer treatment. 

“Combined with UNC Health Care’s National Cancer Institute designation, with more than $70 million in joint cancer research grants for clinical trials, we will create a cancer network that is second to none in the country,” he said.

Sally Stearns, a health policy and management professor at UNC, said the partnership will come with tradeoffs.

“There are going to be some likely improvements in efficiency, in ability to provide better care to a number of residents in different areas,” she said.

Stearns also said the organizations may take advantage of their increased leverage by raising their rates. 

The partnership hopes to expand medical education and further develop clinical care destination centers. The organizations have agreed to start a period of negotiations and hope to enter into final agreements by the end of the year.

"The new organization will deliver world-class care to people in North Carolina by creating the most comprehensive network of primary, specialty and on-demand care in the Southeast," the joint statement said.

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