Wake Forest Baptist

Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center is Forsyth County’s largest employer with more than 13,000 employees.

The two main oversight groups for Atrium Health are coming to Winston-Salem on Wednesday to tour Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center facilities.

Atrium’s board of commissioners and the board of advisors for The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Hospital Authority will hold a special meeting at 10 a.m. in Wake Forest Biotech Place, 575 N. Patterson Ave.

The boards have to give a public notice when enough members are present to form a quorum.

Atrium and Wake Forest Baptist announced April 10 they have signed a memorandum of understanding “to create a next-generation academic health-care system.”

Highlighted in the potential partnership is the opening of a second Wake Forest School of Medicine campus in Charlotte — a long-sought goal of Atrium officials and Charlotte civic and elected officials.

The public notice about the meeting on Atrium‘s website is the first public notification since the announcement was made.

The two groups will review Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, Wake Forest Innovation Quarter and Bowman Gray Center for Medical Education. Their stated purpose is “to give an overview of the research and innovation work taking place at those facilities.”

Atrium and Wake Forest Baptist did not return requests for comment Monday on what else is on the groups’ agenda. Wake Forest Baptist is the largest employer in Forsyth County with more than 13,000 workers.

The open-ended nature of negotiating a potential medical partnership between Wake Forest University and Atrium has raised concerns about the future of Wake Forest Baptist and its medical school in Winston-Salem.

Atrium said in an April 10 statement that the signing “signals the very beginning of in-depth discussions regarding the specific details of what our coming together could ultimately become.”

The groups said in a question-and-answer post April 10 that “the goal is that upon signing a definitive agreement together, Atrium Health, Wake Forest Baptist Health and Wake Forest University will immediately convene a team to start the work of bringing a modern, innovative, cost-effective and sustainable top-20 school of medicine to the Charlotte area.”

However, the groups have not ruled out a much larger collaboration during their period of exclusive negotiations.

Atrium is in the seventh of a 10-year contract to manage Cone Health’s operations. A similar management arrangement could be on the negotiating table with Wake Forest Baptist.

A spokeswoman for Wake Forest Baptist said at the time that the board and management would remain in place and that the medical school and main campus would remain in Winston-Salem.

Dr. Julie Ann Freischlag, chief executive of Wake Forest Baptist and medical school dean, said April 10 that Winston-Salem would gain scientific and analytics jobs from the collaboration.

Freischlag signed in 2017 a five-year contract with Wake Forest Baptist. The Charlotte medical school campus would be completed in 2021 or 2022.

Metro appeal

The local concern about the Charlotte campus is that it could eventually draw resources from the Winston-Salem campus or even lure the medical school itself from Winston-Salem.

Baptist officials have said such scenarios were speculative and not based in fact.

Analysts weighed in on the local apprehensions.

“This is a valid concern,” Michael Walden, an economics professor at N.C. State University, said April 11.

“Still, the reputation and gravitas of Wake Forest University can’t easily be replicated. Winston-Salem should strongly play this card.”

Tony Plath, a retired finance professor at UNC Charlotte, said that there is one risk that would cause Wake’s medical school to relocate from Winston-Salem to Charlotte — student demand for the program.

Freischlag said there would be one medical school entity with two campuses, and that students will have their choice of which campus to attend.

Wake Forest Baptist has said it’s too early in the process to say how placements will be handled. That includes deciding whether candidates will apply to the medical school, get accepted and then chose a campus, or if they will be able to decide which campus they want to attend in the application process.

“If student demand for the medical school goes way up for placements here in Charlotte, and way down for placements in Winston-Salem, then that demand pattern places the location of the school at risk in Winston-Salem,” Plath said.

Winston-Salem likely does offer a lower cost of living than Charlotte for medical school students.

Freischlag said in April that she and the majority of the existing medical school faculty would remain in Winston-Salem, and that the Charlotte medical school would gain new faculty and utilize providers within the Atrium hospital system.

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rcraver@wsjournal.com 336-727-7376 @rcraverWSJ

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