The affiliation negotiations between Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center and Atrium Health will not end with a sale or merger, according to Wake Forest Baptist’s top High Point executive.
The systems announced April 10 they had 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.
“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 Wednesday in an 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.
Williams said Hoekstra’s comments were addressing primarily where High Point Medical Center fits in the Wake Forest Baptist-Atrium negotiations.
“There are no plans, no discussions at all about changing ownership in High Point,” Williams said.
Williams said the two systems plan to disclose more details about their partnership in the coming weeks.
Wake Forest Baptist has said 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 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.
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.
On Aug. 14, key Atrium Health executives and board directors toured Wake Forest Innovation Quarter in downtown Winston-Salem and the more than $700 million in capital investments. 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.”