The East Carolina University Board of Trustees on Wednesday took action to integrate the Brody School of Medicine with Vidant Health and create a new health system brand.
As part of the move, the board voted unanimously to approve the appointment of Vidant CEO Michael Waldrum as dean of the Brody School of Medicine. Waldrum will remain chief executive at Vidant Health.
The new health system brand — which officials said would be called ECU Health or something similar — will continue to serve 1.4 million residents of eastern North Carolina.
Waldrum was appointed by ECU Chancellor Philip Rogers and approved by the trustees in a called meeting. The appointment is effective July 1.
Waldrum will report directly to the chancellor, according to the motion approved on Wednesday.
Dr. Jason Higginson also was appointed as executive dean of the Brody School of Medicine. He will be primarily responsible for operational aspects of medical school activities. He is currently serving as interim dean.
“Dr. Waldrum and Dr. Higginson are the right leaders at this pivotal moment in Brody’s history. They will work collaboratively to ensure we design a strategically aligned and clinically integrated academic health system for our region that proudly leverages the ECU brand,” Rogers said in a news release.
“This sets us on a path for greater, strategic alignment that is grounded in our values, to serve this special region through access to quality care,” Rogers said.
Both institutions are seeking innovations in the delivery of rural health care. Pairing the creation of a clinically innovative model with the potential construction of a new medical school facility puts the new partnership in “a tremendous position” to advance health care, Rogers said.
“By aligning the leadership of the Brody School of Medicine and Vidant Health, we will be able to more effectively train future physicians, provide enhanced research opportunities, advance technological solutions and better coordinate the delivery of health care to the people of our region,” Roger said.
In a news conference, Rogers thanked state legislators for supporting efforts to fund a new facility for the medical school. The Senate has included $215 million for the project in its budget, as did Gov. Roy Cooper in his budget.
“We are certainly grateful to have their support as we move forward with that building,” Rogers said. A new facility will contribute to the innovation the university and Vidant Health is seeking, he said.
When asked how much buy-in for Wednesday’s action was sought from legislative leaders and members of the UNC Board of Governors, Rogers said it was a decision made by East Carolina University and by him as chancellor.
“The only entity required to approve this agreement today was East Carolina University’s Board of Trustees,” Rogers said.
“This begins to place ECU and Vidant into closer organizational alignment, so the mission remains the priority — serving the health care needs of eastern North Carolina, rural areas of our state, and beyond,” UNC System President Peter Hans said of today’s announcement. “Chancellor Rogers’ selection of Dr. Waldrum and Dr. Higginson demonstrates that they all realize the most strategic and productive way forward is working more closely together.”
More than five years ago ECU and Vidant attempted to integrate their physician practices in an effort labeled Project Unify. The effort faltered in late 2018.
“It is not lost on me that there are some who will view today’s news with skepticism through a lens informed by prior attempts to strengthen the relationship between Vidant Health and between ECU,” Rogers said.
“The current environment is dynamic and rapidly changing and maintaining the status quo is not an option,” he said. This approach is different and we’ll demonstrate that over time.”
There will be no transfer of assets or change in anyone’s employment status at this time, Rogers said.
Waldrum’s appointment was endorsed by Vidant Health’s Board of Directors, the news release said.
As dean, Waldrum will be the senior academic and administrative officer for the Brody School of Medicine and will be responsible for the academic and research programs.
He has served as CEO of Vidant since June 2015 and is a distinguished professor at the Brody School of Medicine. He currently serves on the board of the Association of Medical Colleges and is chair-elect of the Council of Teaching Hospitals and Health Systems of the Association of Medical Colleges.
“It is an honor to lead the Brody School of Medicine, which is one of the premier academic health institutions in the nation,” Waldrum said. “I want to thank Chancellor Rogers for this opportunity and look forward to working together on behalf of those we serve. There is no doubt in my mind that Greenville and eastern North Carolina benefit from a close partnership between Vidant and ECU. Together, these two institutions can continue to innovate and work collaboratively on meeting the shared goal of providing high-quality health care for the region.”
Waldrum’s base salary will remain the $1.25 million set by Vidant Health’s Board of Directors but ECU will contribute $525,000 with Vidant paying the remaining amount, an ECU spokeswoman said.
Higginson will provide senior executive management of personnel and operations within ECU Physicians, the clinical practice of the Brody School of Medicine, and serve as a liaison between department chairs and the dean. He will also serve as the chief administrative officer of ECU Physicians for clinical areas and various transactions.
Higginson joined Brody in 2012 and has served as chief of neonatology for the Department of Pediatrics, medical director for the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and Newborn Medicine, and the pediatrician-in-chief for the James and Connie Maynard Children’s Hospital at Vidant Medical Center. He was chairman of the Department of Pediatrics from 2016 until his appointment as interim dean.
Mark Stacy, former Brody dean and vice chancellor of ECU Health Sciences, stepped down from his position last month with no explanation or comment.
It’s unclear if the university will permanently fill the vice chancellor of health sciences position. Rogers said no decisions have been made because the administration is reviewing the recommendations from the fiscal sustainability committee which is still getting feedback on its recommendations from across the campus.
Former ECU Interim Chancellor Ron Mitchelson is currently filling the vice chancellor seat.
Rogers said much work will be needed in the future to make today’s announcement a reality.
“Boldly, we will move forward together with a shared vision and set of values. We believe this is the most innovative, long-term and strategic solution to serve our region, and if we keep our joint mission at the center of this work, then we will look back on today’s announcement as a milestone in our university’s history,” he said.