Pirate payday.

Author:Pomeranz, Jim
Position:STATEWIDE: East

After a year of negotiations, eastern North Carolina's largest health care provider is acquiring ECU Physicians, the clinical practice of the Greenville university's Brody School of Medicine. The proposed deal totals $462.5 million, with Vidant Medical Group paying $35 million upfront to East Carolina University then $14.25 million annually for 30 years. That's a 30% increase from the $11 million that the medical school has collected in recent years from the physicians group. While the deal has officially closed, no final merger date has been set.

The transaction will help rein in patient costs, increase access to new treatments and clinical trials, and offer more training sites for medical students, says Rick Niswander, vice chancellor for administration and finance at ECU. It also reduces financial pressures at Brody, which in recent years has faced budget cuts and increased bad debt from uninsured patients.

"We finally realized both need each other. Without the Brody School of Medicine, Vidant would be a shadow of itself, and without Vidant, East Carolina would not have the vast teaching facilities it needs to train doctors in eastern North Carolina," Niswander says. No other hospital systems bid.

Payments will go into an endowment fund for the medical school. The combined practice will be known as VECU Medical Group with a board chaired by Mark Stacy, the newly appointed dean of the medical school. Vidant will nominate six board members, while ECU will have five picks.

Vidant's plan for ECU Physicians staff members is sparking criticism at the State Employees Association of North Carolina, which worries some workers may be forced to retire earlier than desired. The system has made no cost-savings pledges and is treating all workers equally, Vidant spokesman Chad Campbell says.

The physicians' group employs more than 400 physicians at 25 primary-care and specialty clinics and in the emergency...

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