Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Elizabeth G. Cook
Salisbury Post
Rowan Regional Medical Center officials will soon receive new proposals from Carolinas HealthCare System and Novant Health as they consider which system would make a better partner for the Salisbury hospital.
Representatives from the two systems presented initial proposals to the hospital board’s executive committee May 24. The plans focused on different issues, and the committee didn’t want to compare apples to oranges.
“We asked them to come back with alternative plans,” hospital CEO Chuck Elliott said last week.
Rowan Regional officials have signed a confidentiality agreement with all parties involved, so Elliott declined to comment on specifics of the proposals.
“I believe that once we make a decision we will be able to give explanations,” he said.
The search for the right fit has put Rowan Regional in the middle of an ongoing battle between the two systems for market share in this region.
Carolinas HealthCare System, based in Charlotte, is the largest health-care system in the state and the third largest public one in the nation. It includes Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte and has recently signed agreements in counties surrounding Rowan ó with NorthEast Medical Center in Concord and Stanly Regional in Albemarle.
Novant, based in Winston-Salem, is a private, not-for-profit, health-care system that includes Presbyterian Hospital and its affiliates in Charlotte, Forsyth Medical Center in Winston-Salem and several other facilities. A partnership with Rowan would enable Novant to connect the Charlotte region to the Triad region.
Existing relationships
Rowan Regional has already formed an alliance with Carolinas Medical Center and the Sanger Clinic of Charlotte for interventional cardiology services. And Rowan beat out Presbyterian Healthcare last year for the state’s OK to open an additional outpatient operating room in the county.
Still, officials with Novant Health want Rowan Regional as part of their system.
“Novant Health is committed to growing and enhancing Rowan Regional Medical Center,” said Kati Everett, director of public relations and marketing for Presbyterian Healthcare, in an e-mail. “We emphasize building relationships with physicians, nurses, employees and community members to enhance patient care, we hope the board of RRMC shares that vision.”
Everett said Thomasville Medical Center and Brunswick Community Hospital both recently joined Novant and have increased their employment, their scope of services and their building capacity.
Carolinas HealthCare spokesperson Kevin McCarthy pointed to existing partnerships with Rowan Regional in interventional cardiology and in-patient rehabilitation as signs of an already strong relationship.
“Certainly, we are flattered to have been asked to participate in their assessment of their strategy going forward,” McCarthy said.
“We’ve always viewed them as being a first-class institution.”
No deadline
Elliott announced in April that Rowan Regional was about to begin talking with potential partners to meet the hospital’s goals for growth and improvement in health-care services.
The May 24 meetings were Rowan Regional’s first formal conversation with the two systems, according to a statement Elliott released to the hospital staff afterwards.
The goal was “to understand their proposed vision and strategy for working collaboratively with RRMC and its medical staff,” the statement said.
“In addition, the Executive Committee had the opportunity to discuss each organization’s broader strategy for the region.”
Elliott said the hospital does not have a deadline for making a decision.
He met with the hospital’s doctors Wednesday morning to keep them informed and discuss “what kind of things would they like to see,” he said.
“Their main concern is related to the physician network,” he said. Both CHS and Novant have physician networks.
NorthEast experience
Whichever health-care system the hospital chooses, its doctors will not be required to join that system’s physician network, Elliott said.
That was a sore point with the medical community in Concord when NorthEast Medical Center announced in April that it was joining Carolinas HealthCare System. Neither the staff nor the community was forewarned, and the medical community was not informed during the process.
“Some doctors had just joined Novant or were going to,” Elliott said.
Doctors practicing at NorthEast have not been required to join Carolinas Healthcare’s physician network, according to Lee Brower, NorthEast’s director of communications.
Public input
As for input from the general public, Elliott said he was surprised that he saw little reaction after announcing the launch of the process in April. The process does not formally include public input ó and none is required.
“Our board represents the community,” Elliott said. “If someone wants to express an opinion to me and the board members, that would be fine.”
Here’s more information about the two health-care systems, from their Web sites:
Carolinas HealthCare
CHS is the largest health care system in the Carolinas, and third-largest public system in the nation. It owns, leases and manages hospitals, nursing homes, physician practices, home health agencies, radiation therapy facilities, physical therapy facilities and other health care related operations.
It has approximately 4,500 licensed beds and 25,300 employees.
In addition to Carolinas Medical Center and CMC Mercy in Charlotte, it includes hospitals in Pineville, University Place, Monroe, Wadesboro, Shelby, Morganton, Lincolnton, Kings Mountain, Valdese and Charleston, S.C.
Carolinas HealthCare’s spokesperson said he could not say much about the ongoing discussions with Rowan Regional or his organization’s interest in Rowan.
Novant Health serves more than 3.5 million people in 34 counties reaching from southern Virginia to northern South Carolina.
It was formed July 1, 1997, by the merger of Carolina Medicorp of Winston-Salem and Presbyterian Health Services of Charlotte. Thomasville Medical Center joined the system in 1997, and Brunswick Community Hospital joined in 2006.
Novant’s biggest hospitals are Forsyth Medical Center with 847 beds, Presbyterian with 581 beds and Thomasville with 149 beds.
Novant employs 17,000 people and has 630 physicians in its medical groups.
Other hospitals include: Medical Park Hospital in Winston-Salem, Presbyterian Orthopaedic Hospital in Charlotte, Presbyterian Hospital Matthews, Presbyterian Hospital Huntersville and Brunswick Community Hospital.
Asked why Novant was interested in Rowan Regional, spokesperson Everett listed several factors:
– Economies of scale: “We have the ability to save considerable expense by spreading corporate overhead costs of expensive initiatives like the electronic medical record over many facilities. … All saved dollars allow us to invest more funds into resources that will improve patient care, make health care safer and provide services to the needy and uninsured.”
– Add a strategic region: All existing Novant hospitals serve communities outside Rowan Regional’s main service area, and adding to Rowan to the Novant system would help it link the Charlotte and Triad markets.
“That simple geographic fact will clearly define our partnership and mutual goals,” she said, “to grow Rowan Regional and preserve it as a tremendous local asset that creates jobs, provides health care for everyone ó the insured and the uninsured óand keeps medical care local.”
– Competitive advantage: A partnership would allow Rowan Regional and Novant compete more effectively for patients in Cabarrus, Stanly, Davie and Davidson County, Everett said. “Our focus is to keep RRMC a strong and quality competitor for patients and to enhance RRMC as a regional referral center and an economic engine for its communities.”
– Rowan Regional’s staff: Everett said Rowan Regional has a strong management and physician team that would add to Novant.
“Together, we can begin to improve Rowan Regional’s ability to serve a broader population, to attract patients who are leaving the county to seek services at nearby competitors and to expand health-care services along this vibrant corridor.”
Contact Elizabeth Cook at 704-797-4244 or