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Hospital to partner with UNC Health, leaving Atrium Health system
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Carolinas HealthCare System Blue Ridge
New Direction

Hospital to partner with UNC Health, leaving Atrium Health system

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The future of health care in Burke County looks like it will have a tint of Carolina blue after an announcement made Thursday morning.

J. Michael Bridges, chair of Carolinas HealthCare System Blue Ridge’s board of directors, announced at a news conference that the hospital will separate from Atrium Health to pursue a partnership with UNC Health.

“On behalf of the entire Blue Ridge board of directors, we are pleased to announce that we have signed a nonbinding letter of intent with UNC Health for Blue Ridge to become part of the UNC Health family through a comprehensive management services agreement,” Bridges said. “Our board of directors is singularly focused on doing everything we can to secure the very best future for local health care in the Unifour region.”

UNC Health shares Carolinas HealthCare’s commitment to rural health care, Bridges said, and the letter of intent that has been signed is the first step to realizing this potential partnership.

“Today marks an incredibly, incredibly exciting day and important milestone in the history of our health system that will ultimately shape the future of health care delivery … in our region for generations to come,” he said. “In partnership with UNC Health, we will further enhance the medical capabilities of our providers and expand the services that Blue Ridge offers today. Importantly, this potential partnership will allow for new and additional specialty services in our community, keeping care local and growing our abilities to serve the diverse needs of our region.”

In a press release from the hospital, it said the partnership between Carolinas HealthCare and UNC Health will:

Build a leading health care option for UNC Health’s Mountain Region. We will do this over time by joining forces to create a hub for coordination of care in the area with our leadership teams and boards working closely together.

Form a high-performing network of facilities and clinicians focused on providing the best patient care, increasing affordability and efficiency, engaging with patients and local communities to elevate public health, and keeping more care local by increasing access to primary and higher-level specialty services.

Enhance and grow Carolinas HealthCare’s clinical programs and service lines including adding appropriate specialty healthcare services at Carolinas HealthCare and UNC Health facilities.

Improve access to research and clinical trials for citizens across the Unifour region.

Maintain and enhance employee and provider satisfaction and retention.

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Leverage UNC Health’s existing population health solutions to the benefit of the residents of the Mountain Region.

Collectively explore innovative rural health care models that will make UNC Health and Carolinas HealthCare a leader in value-based care regionally and across the state.

Care at the hospital system should not see any immediate changes.

“While nothing changes today for patients, employees or physicians, signing the letter of intent is an important step in the process for Blue Ridge to join the UNC Health family,” Bridges said.

Kathy Bailey, president and CEO of Carolinas HealthCare, will head the effort to make sure patient experience will continue at its usual levels throughout the transition.

“There will be a lot of work involved in managing a transition of this magnitude,” Bailey said. “My role as CEO is to make sure that the day-to-day operations of Blue Ridge continue unaffected by this process, and that above all, we continue to concentrate on our mission to deliver high-quality health care to our patients, our friends and our neighbors.”

The transition to UNC Health marks the beginning of a separation from Atrium Health.

“While the relationship with Atrium Health has been valuable, the board has determined that partnering with UNC Health is the right next step to further improve Blue Ridge’s capabilities to enhance the lives of those we serve right here in the Unifour,” Bridges said. “We thank Atrium for their support, and appreciate their guidance over the years.”

Atrium Health said in an statement to The News Herald that it will continue to serve rural parts of North Carolina, and that it wishes Carolinas HealthCare good fortune in its future endeavors.

“Our commitment to provide personalized care close to home and in the home across rural parts of our state and region remains as strong as ever, from Anson to Cleveland, to Wilkes and Surry counties and beyond,” the Atrium statement said. “We are proud of how we have partnered with Blue Ridge to become a financially stable, high-quality and sustainable healthcare system, with its most successful years in its history.”

The move to UNC Health is a natural fit for both organizations, Bridges said.

“Joining the UNC Health family is a natural fit that also enhances UNC health’s mission to serve all North Carolinians through the state. The potential partnership underscores both Blue Ridge and UNC Health’s commitment to rural health care in North Carolina, and will focus on delivering an even higher level of health care throughout our region.

“UNC Health understands the importance of partnering with strong community hospitals like ours to keep care local by expanding access to health care providers and services. This thoughtful and carefully considered decision by the Blue Ridge board of directors reflects a commitment to keep our local communities and patients at the center by enhancing, growing and securing access to superior health care right here at home.”

Chrissy Murphy is a staff writer and can be reached at cmurphy@morganton.com or at 828-432-8941. Follow @cmurphyMNH on Twitter. Sydni Hall is a staff writer and can be reached at 828-432-8907 or at shall@morganton.com.

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Sydni Hall has been covering education, features and new business for The News Herald since April 2021.

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