News: CJ Exclusives

Pitt County, Vidant Medical Center move to end UNC oversight

Vidant Medical Center in Greenville (WikiCommons image)
Vidant Medical Center in Greenville (WikiCommons image)

Vidant Medical Center in Greenville has blocked the University of North Carolina Board of Governors from appointing any more members to the hospital’s board.

The move blindsided the BOG.

VMC holds a close relationship with East Carolina University’s Brody School of Medicine, serving as the school’s academic teaching hospital. The center is one of eight hospitals that make up Vidant Health, a nonprofit system that serves 29 counties in Eastern North Carolina.

In 1975, the UNC BOG and ECU made an affiliation agreement with Pitt County Memorial Hospital. (In 1998, PCMH changed from a public hospital to a private, nonprofit hospital and was renamed Vidant Medical Center. The agreement between UNC, ECU, and the hospital remained in effect.) As part of that agreement, which was renewed in 2013, the UNC BOG had appointment power over nine members of the hospital’s 20-person board.

Not any more, according to records obtained by Carolina Journal.

An April 24 document filed with the Secretary of State’s Office by Pitt County Memorial Hospital, i.e. VMC, shows changes to the hospital’s articles of incorporation. The Pitt County Board of Commissioners will retain privileges to appoint 11 members to the hospital’s board. The amendments stripped the BOG of its appointments, instead letting the hospital’s board appoint the other nine trustees from a list provided by Vidant Health.

UNC has asked Vidant to “pause making these governance changes to allow candid communications by all affected parties,” said UNC spokesman Josh Ellis.

“Vidant’s unexpected elimination of the appointment powers vested in the UNC Board of Governors, accomplished without consultation, creates serious concerns about a relationship which has served eastern North Carolina well since its inception in 1975,” Ellis said May 9. “We are surprised at Vidant Medical Center’s actions, given its long-standing commitment to ECU to serve and remain as the primary teaching hospital for the Brody School of Medicine.”

The legislature has invested “significant funds” in the hospital, and the UNC System “takes the stewardship responsibility regarding the Brody School of Medicine and its historic public mission with the utmost seriousness,” he told CJ.

CJ obtained minutes of the April 22 Pitt County Board of Commissioners meeting. They show members unanimously approved a letter of “support  and consent for Vidant Medical Center,” endorsing changes in the hospital board, which replaced Board of Governors appointees with picks by the VMC’s board. The letter was sent to Vidant Health CEO Mike Waldrum April 23.

Vidant representative Jason Lowry responded to questions in an email, saying, “The Vidant Medical Center board is responsible for making important health care decisions on behalf of the people of eastern North Carolina. Importantly, every member of the Pitt County Commissioners, Vidant Medical Center board and the Vidant Health Board agreed to change how we appoint board members through the appropriate and formal process.”

“We further strengthened our relationship with ECU by ensuring, for the first time, that two members of the board must be ECU leaders. We also require that two members of the board are appointed from outside of Pitt County. We are confident these decisions are in the best interest of the communities we are proud to serve and supports our mission, to improve the health and well-being of eastern NC. We are confident the Pitt County Commissioners and the Vidant Medical Center board will appoint the right people who care deeply about this region,” Lowry said.

The change follows the resignation of former ECU Chancellor Cecil Staton, who encountered conflict with Greenville businessman and BOG Chairman Harry Smith. Notably, Vidant’s Waldrum was one of 128 Greenville leaders who signed a public letter of support for Staton earlier this year.