Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center and Atrium Health have taken a formal step toward jointly “creating a next-generation academic health-care system.”

The not-for-profit health-care systems said Thursday they have executed an agreement they called “one more step in a series of milestones.”

The systems announced April 10 they had signed a memorandum of understanding.

The proposed strategic combination is projected to be completed by March 31. The transaction requires the approval of regulatory agencies.

The systems 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, they have not ruled out a much larger collaboration during their period of exclusive negotiations.

The four-paragraph notice was posted online Friday by both systems at the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board’s website, www.emma.msrb.org.

EMMA reports are aimed primarily at bondholders and ratings agencies. Quarterly financial reports typically are submitted about two months after the end of a quarter.

The systems could not be reached Friday for additional details on the filing. There have been no updates on the website — https://atriumhealth.org/campaigns/bestcareforall — on their negotiations.

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 initiative also is projected to “eventually enhance the patient-centered research and innovation taking place in the Triad.”

Wake Forest Baptist has said that the medical school board and management would remain in place and that the medical school and main campus would remain in Winston-Salem.

Although the groups have not set a deadline for formalizing a collaborative agreement, the goal is to debut the Charlotte medical school campus in 2021 or 2022.

The systems have been negotiating quietly since the announcement — though the potential partnership was put in the spotlight when Atrium executives took a tour of Wake Forest Baptist facilities, including in Wake Forest Innovation Quarter, on Aug. 14.

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.

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. Wake Forest Baptist is the largest employer in Forsyth County with more than 13,000 workers.

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

Dr. Julie Ann Freischlag, chief executive of Wake Forest Baptist and medical school dean, said April 10 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.

During the Aug. 14 tour, key Atrium Health executives and board directors were shown the more than $700 million in capital investments in the innovation quarter. The Atrium team was led by chief executive Eugene Woods.

“It’s incredible what you have built here and what you have in motion,” said Edward Brown III, Atrium’s chairman. “If we don’t take advantage of this opportunity, we’ve blown it.

“We’re confident that the leadership team here (in Winston-Salem) and in Charlotte will be able to take the best from both systems for the upmost benefit of both of our communities.”

On Aug. 21, Wake Forest Baptist’s top High Point executive said the negotiations will not end with a sale or merger.

“Obviously, we are having discussions with Atrium about a partnership, but it has nothing to do with an acquisition or merger. That’s not what’s happening,” Dr. James Hoekstra, president of High Point Medical Center, told the High Point Enterprise.

Hoekstra also serves as associate dean of clinical and academic network development for Wake Forest Baptist.

“The actual agreement we are looking at is really closer to an affiliation than anything else,” Hoekstra said. “Wake Forest is never going to be bought.”

Terry Williams, chief strategy officer for Wake Forest Baptist, said in an Aug. 21 interview with the Winston-Salem Journal that “assets are not going to change hands in terms of selling” between Wake Forest Baptist and Atrium.

“Some of what was said I would have articulated differently, but it’s not easy to put a term on the hybrid relationship we are forming with Atrium. There’s not one like it in the region.

“There will be partnering with certain levels of integration.”

Wake Forest Baptist acquired the High Point hospital in August 2018 from UNC Health Care. Atrium and UNC Health ended a few months earlier their high-profile attempt to merge.

Get today’s top stories right in your inbox. Sign up for our daily morning newsletter.

rcraver@wsjournal.com

336-727-7376

@rcraverWSJ

Load comments