RALEIGH — UNC Health Care CEO Bill Roper said Monday he doesn’t expect the leadership of Holly Hill, the private psychiatric hospital in Wake County, to object to UNC’s recent proposal to build its own psychiatric facility in the county.
“Our people have talked to the leadership at Holly Hill and those conversations have been cordial,” he said. “They have a different part of this system that they serve but we want to work closely together.”
Roper also said that he called Victor J. Dzau, CEO of Duke University Health System, on the day the project was announced to let him know that UNC would be pleased to work with them.
“This is much bigger than any one institution and we welcome their involvement,” Roper said.
Roper and WakeMed CEO Bill Atkinson met with editors and reporters of The News & Observer on Monday.
The two hospital systems recently announced a cease-fire in a public feud that had led WakeMed to make a $750 million hostile takeover bid for Rex Hospital, which UNC owns.
Their agreement calls for UNC to build and operate a $30 million, 28-bed psychiatric facility in Wake County. The project is largely a response to WakeMed’s complaints that UNC wasn’t shouldering its fair share of the charity-care burden in Wake County.
Both Roper and Atkinson said Monday that the psychiatric facility will address a major a problem in the Triangle and across the state: mentally ill patients crowding emergency rooms, which they said is both a costly and ineffective way to treat a segment of the population that has suffered since North Carolina halved the number of hospital beds in its mental hospitals as part of a reform launched a decade ago.
“By the time someone makes it to an emergency department or into a traditional hospital bed we’ve already lost half the battle, which is to make sure folks have great care in an outpatient setting,” Atkinson said.
Roper said UNC doesn’t have a specific site in mind for the new hospital, which will require state approval and isn’t expected to open for several years. Atkinson said he hoped it would be centrally located and near public transportation.
“The site clearly does impact the flow of patients,” he said.
Roper and Atkinson also said they support bringing more transparency to hospital bills.
“Clearly the average person is confused and frustrated by the billing, the whole financial transaction process, so I wish we could do it better,” Roper said.
Gov. Bev Perdue has proposed giving the N.C. Institute of Medicine $100,000 to study the problem of overly complicated and opaque hospital bills, but a House subcommittee recently rejected the idea. Roper said he would support such a study, though he cautioned that the state is limited in what it can do to change the way bills appear.
“Much of the reason the hospital bills are the way they are is derivative of federal health policies and there’s a limitation on what a single state can do,” he said.
Although the deal struck late last month settles the grievances raised by WakeMed, the two hospital systems will still continue to aggressively compete for market share in one of the fastest-growing counties in the country.
“I think people of good will can find ways to work together even though we are collaborating on one day and competing on the next,” Roper said.