The Daily Tar Heel

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Monday March 1st

WakeMed to comply with UNC Health Care’s public records request

The prolonged battle concerning ownership of Rex Healthcare has put the UNC Health Care system under scrutiny — but now the system is asking that the same scrutiny be applied to its competitor.

UNC Health Care submitted a public records request to Raleigh-based WakeMed Health and Hospitals two weeks ago, requesting all agendas and minutes from WakeMed’s Board of Directors’ meetings and the hospital’s financial audits since 2009.

Story so far:

WakeMed Health and Hospitals submitted a $750 million bid to buy Rex Healthcare from UNC Health Care in May. Rex, a Raleigh-based hospital, has been owned by UNC Health Care since 2000.

The bid was rejected in August by UNC Health Care’s board of directors.

Since then, the House Select Committee on State-Owned Assets has begun to look at the possibility of selling Rex without UNC Health Care’s consent.

WakeMed will comply with UNC Health Care’s request, and plans to begin sending information this week, said Heather Monackey, spokeswoman for WakeMed.

The request is part of an ongoing public spat between the two entities.

WakeMed’s $750 million bid to buy UNC-owned Rex Healthcare was rejected by UNC Health Care’s Board of Directors in August, but WakeMed and some state legislators have questioned why a state-owned entity should own private hospitals.

A legislative committee on state-owned assets is considering selling Rex, and could recommend that the state do so without UNC Health Care’s consent.

But UNC Health Care has questioned whether WakeMed has the financial standing to make a purchase of the magnitude of Rex.

“All we’ve gotten from WakeMed is a three-page document saying they wanted to buy us,” said Karen McCall, spokeswoman for UNC Hospitals. “Nobody from WakeMed has indicated in any kind of way that those dollars would really be available.”

WakeMed did not provide more information because its offer was rejected, Monackey said.

“We would not have made the offer to purchase Rex without first ensuring that our offer was viable and in the best interest of our patients and the community,” she said in an email.

The UNC Health Care system submitted thousands of pages of information to WakeMed before it made its bid for Rex, and recently requested an audit of a fund used to transfer money between its various entities.

“For the past year, UNC Health Care has answered all questions asked of us and remained transparent throughout,” Jennifer James, spokeswoman for the system, said in an email.

“We are now asking that WakeMed display the same amount of transparency regarding their role in providing health care to Wake County citizens, including their motivations to own Rex Healthcare and limit choice in Wake County.”

UNC Health Care argues that it needs Rex to further its teaching mission and that owning Rex saves the system money by spreading out overhead costs.

WakeMed is classified as a public body under the N.C. open meetings act because it was previously owned by Wake County.

It is now an independent non-profit, but this previous affiliation makes it a public agency for public records purposes — which means it must disclose the requested records.

Officials at WakeMed were frustrated with the time it took for UNC Health Care to respond to their records request last November.

“UNC Health Care was exceedingly slow responding to our public records request,” Monackey said. “We are committed to responding in a timely manner to the records request made by UNC.”

WakeMed is still unsatisfied with the amount of information it has received from UNC Health Care, Monackey said.

“Each of the points in the initial public records request have been responded to in one way or another,” she said.

“Although we continue to feel that many of the documents that we requested that were not provided are in fact public records and should be provided.”

Contact the State & National Editor at state@dailytarheel.com.

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