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Durham Regional-Duke Merger Means Changes for Patients

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DURHAM — Workers at Durham Regional Hospital have a new boss to answer to. Duke University Medical Center has now signed the papers to lease the hospital for the next 20 years.

Everyone involved in the merger says they hope impact on patients is minimal, but as with all such agreements, people are taking a "wait-and-see" attitude.

Durham Regional has lost a great deal of money over the years, and the county, which ran it, had three options. It could go with a for-profit, out-of-town service, go to taxpayers for more money, or go with Duke. With the selection of the third option, all hospital care in Durham is now under the control of Duke University.

After months of heated debate, the details of the deal were ironed out. Duke is paying $23.5 million up front, then leases the hospital from the county for $3.5 million per year for the next 20 years.

In an age of managed care, officials at Durham Regional say the hospital needs efficiency.

"We have an agreement that the employees at Regional hospital will not lose jobs over the next three years," said Durham County Commissioner Mary Ann Black. "That does not mean that people won't be relieved if their not doing their jobs, or that people who retire won't retire, but there will not be lay-offs for the next three years."

Black and others say they are concerned about the monopoly that Duke now has, but they agree that Duke was the best choice they had. For the sake of Durham patients, they hope time proves them right.