From the Editor

Drescher: In health fight, we back you

Executive Editor - jdrescher@newsobserver.comDecember 10, 2011 

After WakeMed extended a hostile bid to buy rival Rex Healthcare earlier this year, we invited leaders from both organizations to The News & Observer to discuss WakeMed's offer.

Our article described the meeting as "often frosty."

Indeed it was. Bill Atkinson, WakeMed CEO, did most of the talking for his side. Bill Roper, CEO for the UNC Health Care System, which owns Rex, did most of the talking for the other side.

Atkinson said taxpayer support had enabled UNC-Rex to expand unfairly in Wake County. Roper said selling Rex would cripple UNC's ability to negotiate with insurers and to provide medical care for all residents of the state.

It was a lively debate between two smart, determined and experienced chief executives.

We will continue the discussion Sunday when we start our four-part series, "Hearts and Minds: Inside Wake's Hospital War."

The series by reporter Mandy Locke will show how changes in health care have driven hospitals toward expansion and consolidation. Some believe only the biggest will survive - and these two proud institutions, which play such a vital role in the Triangle, are determined to survive and prosper.

The series also will show how a key cardiology practice shifted its allegiance to Rex, escalating a simmering competition into an all-out feud.

This is a heavyweight fight between two of the largest and most important institutions in our community. WakeMed and Rex's connections are deep and reach into every corner of Wake County, including to The News & Observer.

Orage Quarles III, publisher of The N&O, is a member of Rex's board. He did not attend the meeting at The N&O and was not involved in the series that starts Sunday.

Alan Wolf, former N&O assistant business editor, started working at Rex in October as a media coordinator. He covered the health-care industry for The N&O, including WakeMed's offer to buy Rex. We did not rely on any of Wolf's reporting in writing the series. In his new job, Wolf helped Rex provide information for the series.

We have connections to WakeMed, too. Hugh Stevens, a First Amendment lawyer in Raleigh, was retained by WakeMed in 2010 to seek public records from UNC. Stevens has represented The N&O for decades.

The N&O worked with WakeMed for several years to sponsor Kids Day, which raised money for the Children's Center at WakeMed.

Not surprisingly, many N&O editors, including me, have known the hospitals' key media advisers for years. Gary Pearce and Joyce Fitzpatrick advise WakeMed; Ken Eudy works with UNC-Rex.

Our mission is not to take sides but to give you good reporting that shows how the Rex-WakeMed relationship affects the Triangle and reflects changes in health care.

I hope the series will give you a better understanding of how this rivalry boiled over and what's at stake for the hospitals and for all of us.

Drescher: 919-829-4515 or on Twitter: @john_drescher

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