Local leaders see many benefits arising from pending health-care partnership

T.C. Hunter Managing editor

LUMBERTON — A pending partnership will mean management changes at Southeastern Health, but patients should see no changes in the delivery of their health care.

“We do not expect changes to provider/patient relationships,” said Joann Anderson, Southeastern Health president and CEO.

The leaders of Southeastern Health announced Oct. 14 that the health-care provider had signed an letter of intent to enter into a long-term comprehensive Management Services Agreement. The proposed agreement would mean Southeastern Health becomes the 12th member of the UNC Health system and would closely align the organizations so they can work to enhance quality and ensure strong local access to health care in Robeson County and the surrounding region. It also means Southeastern Health would become UNC Health Southeastern. The names of Southeastern Health’s locations would be changed to reflect the partnership with UNC Health.

Pending further approvals by the Southeastern Health board of trustees and regulatory review, the agreement could be completed later this year.

“The management agreement assigns operational responsibility to UNC Health through local administration,” Anderson said. “The local CEO will lead all operations at Southeastern.”

Southeastern Health would remain a locally owned operation, and the local board of trustees would remain the governing body, she said. There would be no transfer of assets and no changes in Southeastern Health’s management team.

If approved, the partnership means patients will benefit in many ways, she said.

“Through this agreement, we hope to bring new providers to the community,” Anderson said. “We will work to provide services that now require patients to be transferred to another facility. We will work with UNC Health to adopt best practices and, over time, secure improved technology.”

It means more specialists will be made available to local patients.

“UNC Health has a vast network of specialists that will be available to our local providers when needed. Access processes will be developed and implemented as we work together on those of highest priority,” Anderson said.

It is not anticipated that the the current network of Southeastern Health providers in surrounding counties will be reduced, she said. But the facilities closed during the health-care provider’s recent restructuring may not be reopened.

However, the number of Southeastern Health employees could increase, Anderson said.

“UNC is not providing direct financial help through this agreement,” she said. “They will work with us to improve financial performance through operations.”

That could change, according to a UNC Health spokesman

“As time goes on, and if the partnership is successful and benefits the community, providers and patients, we may explore additional opportunities to strengthen our relationship. That could include filling in any gaps in care and may also include capital investments,” said Alan M. Wolf, director of News at UNC Health.

Southeastern Health is in a region of the state not currently served by UNC Health, he said. That and shared values made the partnership attractive to UNC Health.

“Southeastern Health shares our values and commitment to providing quality, compassionate and strong local healthcare, making a long-term regional partnership a natural fit for both organizations,” Wolf said. “UNC Health is committed to improving health care in underserved communities such as Robeson County. We are North Carolina’s leading academic health system, with 11 hospitals and hundreds of clinics throughout the state.”

Also, Southeastern will benefit from UNC Health’s existing population health management strategy and commitment to addressing health disparities with innovative, patient-centered solutions, he said.

“The City of Lumberton recognizes and supports the very valuable role Southeastern Health plays in our community,” Mayor Bruce Davis said.

The city is in the midst of a $9.8 million drainage project that will help reduce flooding in the area around the hospital, he said. The city has partnered with Southeastern Health on a $500,000 building reuse grant that helped facilitate the Campbell University residency program, and is currently administering a $350,000 building reuse grant for the Gibson Cancer Center, and just completed enhanced parking on 29th Street to serve Southeastern Regional Medical Center’s emergency room.

“We believe the proposed association with UNC Health will help expand health-care services in Lumberton and the region, and we wish both entities well as they explore this possibility,” Davis said.

Channing Jones, executive director for Economic Development for Robeson County, called the pending partnership very positive for the county and its residents.

“UNC-Health Care is world renowned for their clinical, educational, and population health outcomes,” Jones said. “In culmination with Southeastern Health’s great service, UNC will add services not currently provided to our community. This is will be transformative for the efficacy of care and the convenience for our citizens to have world-class health care in our local community.”

The partnership would mean clinical services that require many to seek assistance outside Robeson County would be offered in the county, he said.

“This should improve patient outcomes and, hopefully, patients’ ability to access care quickly,” Jones said.

Another exciting development from the partnership is the research and knowledge regarding population health, he said. The ability to access UNC Health’s research and population health services is much-needed in Robeson County and could lead to a healthier community.

“With the addition of specialty services from UNC Health, we anticipate additional investment into our county,” Jones said. “New providers, additional state-of-the-art medical equipment, and potential expansions are all exciting prospects.”

And as the county’s population becomes healthier, this translates to more money in families’ pockets, less sick days for businesses, and a healthier workforce that equates to a more productive workforce, he said.

“Simply the branding that comes along with UNC will be tremendous for our community,” Jones said. “The UNC brand is world recognized as a symbol of excellence and will encourage additional investment from both public and private entities.”

The growth at Pembroke State University after it incorporated the UNC branding and become The University of North Carolina at Pembroke is an example of this, he said. The same growth potential is expected by Southeastern Health becoming UNC Health Southeastern.

“Robeson County is extremely excited about this collaboration, and we look forward to a healthier Robeson County,” Jones said.

Reach T.C. Hunter by sending an email to [email protected] or by calling 910-816-1974.