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Wake Forest Baptist, Atrium sign partnership agreement

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.

The Associated Press  

North Carolina’s Garrison Brooks (front left) and Winston-Salem State’s Jaylen Alston reach for the ball during the second half of Friday night’s exhibition game in Chapel Hill. For more on the game, won 96-61 by UNC, see Page C1.

Clemmons voters will see familiar faces and newcomers on the ballot Tuesday

CLEMMONS — The pool of people who choose to vote in Clemmons is small, but those voters are a fickle bunch, routinely ousting incumbents to bring in a slate of newcomers.

That makes Tuesday’s nonpartisan election hard to predict.

If the past is any indication, about 12% of eligible voters will go to the polls, where they will see a ballot with lots of familiar faces and a few newcomers running for the Clemmons Village Council. The mayoral race will feature incumbent John Wait and challenger Larry Kirby in a rematch from the 2017 election. The former public-works director and manager of Clemmons, Kirby was a write-in candidate in that race, losing to Wait by more than 450 votes.

Tuesday will also see municipal elections in Lewisville, Kernersville, Rural Hall, Bethania, Walkertown and Tobaccoville.

The Clemmons council race promises to be hotly contested, with three positions available.

Incumbents Chris Wrights and P.J. Lofland are battling former council members Mary Cameron and Mike Rogers, who were voted out in 2017 during the “Stop the Median” campaign. At issue was the perception that Rogers and Cameron were backing the creation of a dividing median on busy Lewisville-Clemmons Road. While on the council, the two voted to add a possible median to a list of N.C. Department of Transportation, saying it represented an opportunity to study traffic on a state-owned road.

That was interpreted by many in the business community as support for a median, which they saw as limiting customer access to their businesses. They and another incumbent were voted out, and Lofland and Wait, who campaigned against the median, were voted in.

Political newcomers Allen Daniel and Matt Moger round out the ballot. People may vote for three candidates. Council Member Mike Combest decided not to run for re-election after serving one term.

The median project has not been a hot topic this election cycle. Consultants for the DOT proposed last year a median for just a fragment of the road, between Interstate 40 and Stadium Drive. The state is still a long way from a final design, so there’s little that can be debated.

Cameron is not interested in rehashing the 2017 election that led to her ouster after 24 years on the council.

“The election two years ago bothered me because it was about an issue and not who was the most qualified to sit in the seat,” said Cameron, 76. “Issues come and go. This time I hope people vote on individual candidates.”

Traffic remains a major issue in Clemmons, particularly on Lewisville-Clemmons Road, the village’s main corridor. And because the state owns the road, Clemmons has little say in how it can be improved.

For instance, Lofland said she would like to see a stoplight at the road’s intersection with Holder Road, about a half-mile south of U.S. 421, but that’s a decision that falls to the state.

A small-business owner, Lofland, 65, would like to see the village support a feasibility study on adding an I-40 exchange at Kinnamon Road to alleviate traffic on Lewisville-Clemmons Road.

She lamented the rapid pace of commercial development in the village, which has led to pressure on its infrastructure.

“It’s time to really slow down. We have rapidly filled up,” said Lofland, who would like to see more single-family housing.

She said she would also like to see more sidewalks spread throughout the village and not just near Tanglewood Park. Lofland specifically mentioned a sidewalk along Marty Lane, close to where she lives near the village’s northern edge.

“This side of town doesn’t get the attention that other parts do,” said Lofland, who was elected to a two-year term in 2017.

With Combest leaving the council, Wrights is hoping to become its most veteran member. A property manager and small-business owner, Wrights, 36, said the best thing Clemmons can do to manage traffic is work with developers.

“When large developments come in, we need to make sure the needed infrastructure improvements are being built. The Publix development on Peace Haven Road is a prime example. When they built that, they spent over $2 million making off-site improvements,” said Wrights, who was first elected in 2013. “They need to make those improvements and not leave it to Clemmons.”

Rogers, 65, a small-business owner who was elected to the council in 2011, said the village’s biggest challenge is maintaining its success. Clemmons has experienced explosive growth over the last few years. It had a population of 20,420 in 2017, a 1.6% increase from 2016, making it the fastest-growing municipality in Forsyth County.

He cited the village’s schools and low crime rate as examples of the village’s success.

“Our challenge is sustaining that success, and we do that by electing representatives who have demonstrated a willingness to make decision,” he said.

Daniel, 64, has never run for public office but he got involved in researching the proposed Idols Road Business Park outside of Clemmons’ borders and often presented his findings to the council at its meetings. He is semiretired from a career of writing accounting software for local government.

He said he envisions himself as taking on the kind of role that Combest did during his tenure — researching and analyzing data.

Daniel mentioned the number of empty stores in shopping centers and said he would like to see those developed.

“Any development that comes to Clemmons, I’d love to see infill development, where the property is developed, and we encourage businesses to move there and take up the empty space,” Daniel said. “I’m not one of those who thinks that every piece of bare space is raw material for developing.”

Moger, 35, a real-estate investor, did not return a phone call asking for comment.

In the mayor’s race, Wait, 40, is running for a second term. An attorney, Wait pointed to the civility among council members and the mayor.

“What I focus on doing is making sure that if I have an opinion on something that I make sure the council knows that it’s my opinion,” he said. “But I don’t try to run my own agenda. I try to make sure that whatever my vision is doesn’t get in the way.”

Mayors run council meetings but do not have a vote.

Wait chided Kirby for not securing the right of way from the owners of the Kmart property to build a parallel road through its parking lot. That road, Market Center Drive, was to connect Meadowbrook Mall Court to Cook Avenue. It has now been altered, leaving out a big chunk of the road.

“That right of way should have been secured when we had the ability to do that,” Wait said.

Kirby declined to get in a back-and-forth with Wait on the issue.

“People can say what they want, and I’m not going to get into untrue statements,” said Kirby, 71.

After retiring from the village as public-works director and village manger and losing the election to Wait in 2017, Kirby said he decided in January to pursue the mayoral seat, giving him much more time to campaign than he had for his write-in bid in 2017.

“There’s so much negativity across the nation and the state and it’s starting to bleed into the Clemmons community,” Kirby said. “So I threw my hat in the ring to be an ambassador to Clemmons. I would like to see us be more positive than negative.”

Mixed beverages in Bethania up for a vote on Nov. 5 ballot, though the town's only restaurant is moving

Voters in Bethania will decide Tuesday whether to allow the sale of mixed beverages in their town.

The Bethania Board of Commissioners approved a resolution in January asking the Forsyth County Board of Elections to place the referendum on the ballot, said Elliot Fus, the town’s attorney.

The town’s only restaurant, the Muddy Creek Cafe and Music Hall, had asked the commissioners for the measure, Fus said.

In September, Shana Whitehead, a co-owner of Muddy Creek, announced that the Muddy Creek Cafe will move to a space at 626 S. Main St. in Old Salem. The Bethania Muddy Creek, which serves beer and wine, will close in December, Whitehead has said.

The eatery opened at the Bethania Mill and Village Shoppes in 2011, and the music hall followed a few years later.

Even though her business is moving from Bethania, Whitehead said she still supports the mixed-drink measure.

“It would be nice to be able to offer mixed beverages in Bethania,” Whitehead said. “I think Bethania is ready for it.”

A restaurant operator moving into the Bethania Mill in the future might want to offer mixed drinks, Whitehead said.

The resolution that the town approved in January says in part, “Promoting business development and tourism is a goal of the board of commissioners, and it is important to be business friendly and to support the types of businesses, restaurants and entertainment venues desired by the community.”

There are 304 registered voters in Bethania, according to the Forsyth County Board of Elections. All of those voters will cast their ballots at the town’s only precinct, Bethania Moravian Church at 5545 Main St.

The town has a population of 325 people, according to state statistics.

Mayor Deborah Stoltz Thompson said the mixed beverages referendum was the right approach.

“The board thought it would be of help to their business,” Thompson said. “I don’t have a position on it because they are moving. If they would remain here, I would cast a vote for it.”

Town Commissioner Chris Sapp said: “I don’t oppose it, and I don’t really support it. But I will probably vote for it.

“We are just a small little town. It won’t serve much of a purpose even if we had (the sale of mixed beverages).”

Commissioner Brent Rockett also said he doesn’t have a position on the referendum

“I will leave it up to whether the town cares or not,” Rockett said.

Commissioners Michelle Leonard and Tom Beroth couldn’t be reached for comment.

Fus, Thompson, Sapp and Whitehead said they are not aware of any opposition to the measure.

“The voters should be allowed to voice their opinions on mixed beverages,” Fus said in an email. “I presume that each voter has their own opinion and that varying opinions may exist, but I have not attempted to gauge voter opinions in any way.”

Michele Leonard, an incumbent, and town residents John Rogers and Randy Joe Rogers, are running for three available seats on the Bethania Board of Commissioners. John Rogers and Randy Joe Rogers are not related, Sapp said.

Thompson, who is also a commissioner, and Sapp didn’t file to run for re-election to their seats.

Neither John Rogers nor Randy Joe Rogers could be reached for comment.

Lawsuit contends IFB Solutions covered up allegations of sexual abuse by an employee

Officials at IFB Solutions didn’t fire a former employee over allegations of sexual abuse of a 17-year-old boy with Down Syndrome; they fired him because the employee said inappropriate things to the boy, an attorney for the Winston-Salem agency told a Forsyth County judge on Friday.

Michael Cannon, attorney for IFB Solutions, told Judge Julia Lynn Gullett of Forsyth Superior Court that IFB officials didn’t find out about the allegation of sexual abuse until they were served with a lawsuit that was filed against the agency in May. IFB Solutions is the nation’s largest employer of blind and visually-impaired people with about 1,000 employees overall and 556 locally. The lawsuit accuses the agency of negligence in hiring Caldwell and says that the agency covered up the abuse, believing negative publicity would threaten its legal battle to keep a federal contract with the U.S. Veterans Administration. IFB officials have denied the allegations.

That former employee, John Dorsey Caldwell, 52, is charged with two counts of felony crimes against nature and two counts of misdemeanor sexual battery. The boy was participating in an occupational course study through a partnership between IFB and the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County school system. According to court documents, the alleged sexual abuse occurred in the fall of 2017. The agency received a complaint about Caldwell on Nov. 2, 2017 and fired him on Nov. 7, 2017, according to court documents.

A major allegation in the lawsuit is that IFB Solutions, formerly Winston-Salem Industries for the Blind, covered up the accusations of sexual abuse and didn’t notify the boy’s parents, the school system or the Winston-Salem Police Department about Caldwell. The lawsuit said that the agency did not fire Caldwell despite a history of misconduct, including forcing other adult employees to perform sexual acts with him and wearing an inappropriate shirt. And the lawsuit alleges that the agency hired Caldwell despite that he had been charged with second-degree sex offense in 1995 in Guilford County. He pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of assault on a female.

An amended complaint alleges that the boy went to human resources officials with concerns about Caldwell’s conduct toward him and the agency did nothing. The amended complaint also said that Greensboro-based Industries of the Blind, a separate organization, hired Caldwell a year after IFB Solutions fired him. Caldwell is currently suspended without pay from Industries of the Blind, and agency officials in Greensboro said they followed the law in hiring Caldwell.

During a hearing Friday on several motions, Cannon told Gullett that agency officials received a report from several employees who said they heard Caldwell make inappropriate comments to the boy in the cafeteria. He said agency officials immediately suspended Caldwell, conducted an investigation and then fired him. It took several days to fire him because he wouldn’t answer the phone, Cannon said.

“Once he answered the phone, he was fired,” he said. “The allegations of sexual abuse were a complete surprise to IFB.”

Surprised by allegations of sexual abuseCannon and Steven Lucente, attorney for Caldwell in the lawsuit, had both filed motions seeking to suspend litigation until Caldwell’s criminal case was resolved, which could take several months to a year. Lucente argued that Caldwell’s constitutional right to not incriminate himself would be violated if he were forced to file a written answer to the lawsuit or participate in a deposition.

Cannon argued that agency officials want answers from Caldwell that they won’t be able to get as long as the criminal charges against him are pending. It’s to everyone’s benefit that the litigation be suspended until Caldwell’s criminal case is resolved, Cannon argued.

But Andrew Fitzgerald, the attorney for the boy’s guardian ad litem, said the boy’s family should not have to wait. IFB Solutions never notified the boy’s parents, the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County school system or the Winston-Salem police, he said. The boy’s mother found out about the abuse nearly a year later in August 2018, when a former IFB employee approached her at a local Walmart.

Once that happened, the boy’s parents contacted Winston-Salem police, which began a criminal investigation that resulted in the charges against Caldwell.

“He (the boy) had to live with this alone for almost a year,” he said. And now, Fitzgerald said, IFB officials want the boy and his family to wait even longer for some justice.

“This family is hurting,” he said. “They need peace and justice.”

Gullett denied the motion to suspend the litigation, which means that the lawsuit will go forward.

Allegations of leaking to media

Cannon also sought a motion for a protective order so that any information exchanged during discovery would be kept confidential and any depositions would be closed to the public. He also wanted transcripts of those depositions sealed.

He said he sought the protective order because he was concerned that the boy’s identity had been compromised and he also accused Fitzgerald of leaking certain documents to the media. In his motion, Cannon attached heavily-redacted emails, including one from Fitzgerald to Cannon in which Fitzgerald said he sent an unidentified reporter a copy of a proposed amended complaint.

Those documents that Cannon referred to had been attached as exhibits to motions that Fitzgerald had filed. Fitzgerald said he has never leaked anything and has not given any substantial interviews to any media organization. He simply told a reporter that the documents are public record and could be find in the court file for the lawsuit.

Cannon also argued that Fitzgerald has contacted competitors to IFB Solutions. Fitzgerald said he has reached out to lawyers involved in litigation against IFB Solutions, something that any attorney in his position would do.

Gullett granted the motion for a protective order as well as a motion to compel discovery. Specifically, Gullett ordered IFB Solutions to turn over a two-page report outlining the investigation into Caldwell and to search for any emails officials sent out regarding the investigation. Cannon told Gullett that he was not aware of any email communication before or immediately after Caldwell had been fired.

Ftizgerald said in court that he found that claim hard to believe.

A trial date for the lawsuit has not been set, and it will likely take a year before it either comes to trial or reaches a settlement.

Caldwell appeared in Forsyth District Court on Wednesday. His case was continued until Dec. 5. Forsyth County prosecutors will likely seek an indictment on the felony charges that will send it to Forsyth Superior Court, where either a trial date is set or a plea deal is reached.