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Wake hospital asks for records from UNC Healthcare

Says UNC tactics predatory, opaque

WakeMed Health and Hospitals is requesting UNC Hospitals to stop its “predatory behavior” in partnering with profitable private physicians’ practices across the state.

They are also calling into question the amount of charity care UNC reports and the role of UNC-owned Rex Hospital in Wake County.

WakeMed submitted a formal request for financial information and other public records from UNC Hospitals on Monday.

UNC is reviewing the request with a legal team and is unable to provide a time line for a response, medical center spokeswoman Jennifer James said.

“It’s unclear when we’ll have further information to provide,” she said. “That’s really where we are right now.”

Although WakeMed’s request comes on the coattails of UNC’s announcement a month ago about a new partnership with the private cardiology clinic Wake Heart and Vascular Associates, William Atkinson, president and CEO for WakeMed, said that was not the call to action.

The letter is in response to a decade-long tension starting with UNC’s acquisition of Rex Hospital, which is in WakeMed’s market, Atkinson said.

He said WakeMed does about 80 percent of the charity care in Wake County without the state support that UNC receives.

Rex Hospital CFO Bernadette Spong said in an interview a month ago that the hospital totaled $94 million in charity care and bad debt expense for the 2009 fiscal year.

“That’s a big number when you start breaking it down on a daily basis,” she said.

But Atkinson questioned the transparency of Rex.

“Rex Hospital is a very different animal,” he said.

Although it is owned by the University, Rex does not release the same financial data as a state-owned hospital, Atkinson said.

“We don’t know how to talk about what it is they do without knowing what it is,” he said. “They operate outside of daylight with this.”

Atkinson said he is also concerned about UNC spending tax dollars in forming partnerships with private physicians’ practices and disrupting markets at a time when the University system is expecting deep budget cuts.

“This University has become more and more aggressive,” he said.

In a statement released Monday of remarks made to the Wake County Medical Society Nov. 18., UNC Hospitals CEO and Dean of the UNC School of Medicine Bill Roper said partnerships with private physicians’ practices is part of a national trend toward consolidation.

It is also a strategy to serve patients better and more cost-effectively, he said.

“We have no intentions of siphoning patients,” Roper said.

But Atkinson said these partnerships with private physicians practices are a redistribution of the care that already exists.

“Chasing hearts is exceedingly profitable,” he said in reference to UNC’s recent partnership with Wake Heart.

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If UNC was really interested in charity care, they would look for a way to provide more mental health care spots instead, Atkinson said.

Atkinson is also calling into question how UNC reports its charity care — a lot of the losses UNC reports are expected and predictable.

“It’s an example of the University straying way beyond its traditional focus and into an area that’s convenient, but it’s a very uneasy place for the University to be,” he said.

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