Smithfield Herald

Johnston Health, UNC sign pact

Johnston Health is changing its logo to reflect its partnership with UNC Health Care.
Johnston Health is changing its logo to reflect its partnership with UNC Health Care.

It’s official: Johnston Health and UNC Health Care are now partners, a move designed to give Johnston County residents more health-care options.

The two hospital systems finalized their partnership last week. Johnston Health began looking for a partner in November 2011. Last spring, it settled on UNC, which now owns 35.25 percent of the newly-formed Johnston Health Services Corp.

In exchange for that ownership stake, UNC will provide $57.6 million in capital, with most of the money going to turn Johnston Medical Center of Clayton into a full-service hospital with 50 inpatient beds. That construction project is on schedule for completion in January 2015.

“We picked a very strong partner, being a research hospital and a teaching hospital,” said County Commissioners Chairman Jeffrey Carver, who also sits on the hospital board. “What access that gives us is incredible, so we’re just glad it’s over with, and we look forward to what they bring to the table.”

Johnston Health leaders aren’t sure what health-care expertise UNC will bring to Johnston County; the new partners will decide those details in the coming months. But the partnership brings many possibilities.

For instance, “UNC Health Care has subspecialties such as pediatric cardiology, OB/GYN oncology and some aspects of neurosurgery that we could not support here full time because we lack the patient base,” Johnston Health CEO Chuck Elliott said in written answers to a reporter’s questions. “So we can refer patients to those subspecialties or provide those services here part-time.”

Johnston will also be able to recruit doctors from UNC’s residency programs, Elliott said.

County Commissioner Tony Braswell, who sits on the hospital board, said the partnership also gives Johnston Health greater purchasing power. “And (UNC) can negotiate better deals with insurance companies than what we could,” he said.

Braswell said the partnership will also look at ways of improving on back-end Johnston Health services, such as information technology and billing. “All that will be great to keep the cost down for the citizens here in the county,” he said.

Also, Carver said, doctors in both health-care systems will start sharing best practices, which will improve quality of care.

Johnston Health began looking for a partner in 2011 because of changes in health care, including the Affordable Care Act, Carver said. “The Affordable Care Act and all the things that are changing in health care, we recognized the fact that we needed a partner that brings additional resources to the table and specialties, doctors, etc.,” he said.

Carver said keeping majority ownership and control of Johnston Health was a priority. “Health care is very important to the county,” he said. “We never wanted to lose control of the hospital or healthcare.”

Braswell agreed that finding a partner on Johnston’s terms was important. “Quite frankly, I think we were ahead of the curve ... because we were able to do that while still being profitable,” he said. “We didn’t want to be in a position when we had to do it, so we wanted to pick a time when it was convenient to us, and it worked out real great.”

Money spent at Johnston Health won’t flow to UNC: Any profits will be reinvested in the hospital system, Elliott said.

For UNC, the affiliation opens up a new market.

“Johnston Health approached UNC Health Care about a possible partnership, and we welcomed the opportunity to work with a strong hospital in a fast-growing community,” David Strong, chief operating officer of system affiliations for UNC, said in a written response. “We look forward to expanding the medical care available for all residents of Johnston County and surrounding areas by connecting patients to highly sub-specialized care, clinical research and trials, and a highly innovative culture.”

Originally, five hospital systems including UNC approached Johnston Health about a partnership. The others were WakeMed, Vidant Health, Duke LifePoint and Quorum Health Resources. Johnston Health narrowed the list to UNC, WakeMed and Vidant in October 2012 and settled on UNC in the spring of 2013.

“We sought a strategic partner who would help us adapt to a rapidly changing health-care environment and to provide the best possible care for our patients and their families,” Elliott said in a news release. “We are thrilled to begin our work with UNC Health Care and look forward to expanding the medical care available in one of the state’s fastest-growing communities.”