Local News

WakeMed challenges competition tactics of public health system

Posted November 29, 2010 2:41 p.m. EST
Updated November 29, 2010 11:24 p.m. EST

WakeMed celebrated the opening of Wake County's first children's hospital in May 2010.

— The WakeMed Board of Directors approved a move Monday to request records from UNC Health Care about how the public system spends money to lure patients and doctors, arguing that it has an unfair advantage in the battle for health care dollars in the Triangle.

“Specifically, the records request is to determine if UNC Health Care and Rex Healthcare are improperly using taxpayer dollars to compete with WakeMed and other health care institutions by investing in physician practices and other facilities,” Dr. Bill Atkinson, WakeMed president and chief executive officer, said in a statement.

Later Monday, Atkinson accused UNC of creating imbalance in what should be a free-market system.

In asking for the records, WakeMed's board called UNC Health Care and Rex – both of which are owned and financed by the state of North Carolina – "predatory."  

Atkinson questioned whether UNC Health Care was offering doctors and medical practices incentives to align with it over WakeMed.

"We're seeing lots of examples of movement in cardiac services, in surgery services, in some orthopedic services," he said.

The board asked for financial statements and records of expenditures by UNC Health Care, Rex Healthcare, Rex Physicians LLC and Triangle Physicians Network over the past two years, and for records pertaining to a meeting between WakeMed staff and UNC's Chief of Cardiology Dr. Cam Patterson.

WakeMed alleges that UNC Hospitals and Rex are, in essence, wasting taxpayer money in a time of belt-tightening.

“While competition is healthy, these recent actions are not enhancing access or adding new physicians to meet demand, but are instead shifting and duplicating existing services, which is not good for the community," Atkinson said.

WakeMed also argues that Rex is not treating a fair share of indigent patients. "WakeMed continues to care for the vast majority of the uninsured and medically underserved in Wake County," the hospital's announcement of the filing concluded.

In response to the charges, UNC Health Care released the text of a speech made by CEO Dr. Bill Roper to the Wake County Medical Society earlier this month.

In it, Roper said, "There is a national trend toward consolidation. We believe academic institutions, local health care providers and physician groups will work even more closely together in the future, as we together face pressure to serve patients better and more cost-effectively."

Karen McCall, UNC Health Care vice president of Public Affairs and Marketing, issued a statement saying, "I can confirm that we have received the records request and we are reviewing it. We are committed as always to complying with the obligations of the North Carolina Public Records Law.”