ECU makes first public statement on Vidant dispute

GREENVILLE, NC (WITN) - East Carolina University's interim chancellor and the dean of the medical school are speaking out for the first time about the dispute between the UNC System, Vidant Medical Center and Pitt County commissioners.

Dan Gerlach and Dr. Mark Stacy issued a joint statement this morning.

The UNC System and ECU sued the hospital and the county last month after county commissioners unanimously approved changing the make-up of Vidant's board of directors.

Gerlach and Stacy said they have been working quietly to resolve the dispute, but feel it is time to let everyone know their position.

"The plain fact is that Vidant Health and Pitt County acted behind closed doors to change how appointments are made to the Vidant Medical Center Board. No one at ECU/Brody was consulted or agreed to this change," the statement said.

The chancellor and the dean said the move violated a legal agreement that allowed the county to appoint 11 members to the Vidant board, while the UNC System appointed the other 9. In return, the UNC System agreed not to build a separate teaching hospital for the school that would have competed with Vidant.

"We at ECU made the decision to protect our interests and engaged legal counsel to defend the agreement," they said.

Vidant now stands to lose $35 million in annual Medicaid payments it received because of its status as a teaching hospital.

Gerlach and Stacy say they want those Medicaid payments to stay put, and the fastest way for that to happen is for Vidant and the county to reverse course and return the university system's appointments to the hospital's board.

A judge has directed mediation to help resolve the dispute. The hospital and county came out with a proposal last week, but the university system rejected that proposal.


ECU STATEMENT

To the ECU Community:

As leaders of East Carolina University and the Brody School of Medicine, we have been asked repeatedly for our position on Vidant Health's efforts to change how the Vidant Medical Center Board is selected, and the consequences of their decision. We have preferred to work quietly and quickly to resolve differences, but it is now time to state our views.

The plain fact is that Vidant Health and Pitt County acted behind closed doors to change how appointments are made to the Vidant Medical Center Board. No one at ECU/Brody was consulted or agreed to this change. This action violated the affiliation agreement that ECU and Brody have with Vidant and Pitt County. Their action broke an agreement that has been in place, in some form, for decades. We at ECU made the decision to protect our interests and engaged legal counsel to defend the agreement.

Although we work closely together, Vidant and Brody are NOT the same entity. Vidant is an independent corporation with its own goals and motives. Its legal agreement with ECU and the University of North Carolina System has given Vidant access to benefits such as supplemental Medicaid payments, crucial payments Vidant has now put at risk through this unilateral action. ECU is one of the 17 constituent institutions of the UNC System, which is why the system and its Board of Governors are involved. Neither UNC-Chapel Hill nor UNC Health Care are part of this dispute.

We want those Medicaid payments to stay in place. The fastest way for that to happen is for Vidant and Pitt County to reverse their changes to the Board structure to comply with the affiliation agreement. It is entirely in their control and would ease concern of our communities and save time and money. We cannot afford further distraction or delay.

This is a fight that ECU did not know about, start, invite or need. The court has directed meditation, the best way to handle concerns, and we are working with the parties to complete that process as soon as possible. ECU has some issues that we want to address with our partners as well, in order to strengthen the long-term sustainability of the Brody school and its mission to serve the health care needs of the state and the region as we have for over 40 years.

Finally, there's been a lot of discussion from other parties about what is good for ECU. We assure you that we are plenty capable of speaking for ourselves and our interests, and we will do so vigorously.

Dan Gerlach
Interim Chancellor

Mark Stacy, MD
Vice Chancellor for Health Sciences
Dean, Brody School of Medicine