Atrium Health releases doctors seeking to break away

Atrium Health releases doctors seeking to break away

CHARLOTTE, NC (Deon Roberts/The Charlotte Observer) - Atrium Health said Wednesday it is granting a request from a group of doctors seeking to break away from the hospital system, by ending employment agreements with the physicians on Sept. 1.

The doctors within Atrium's Mecklenburg Medical Group practice will not be restricted by non-compete agreements, Atrium said. In a lawsuit this month, the doctors said the agreements banned them from practicing medicine within miles of Atrium facilities.

In a statement, the doctors said their attorneys will be reviewing the details of the announcement with Atrium's attorneys to determine how it impacts the pending lawsuit.

"We are pleased that today Atrium Health appears to have granted the request," the doctors said.

Wednesday's announcement came after about 90 doctors in one of Charlotte-based Atrium's best-known practices sued the system April 2 to free themselves of the non-compete restrictions and operate independently under the name Mecklenburg Multispecialty Group. The practice was acquired by Atrium in 1993.

In their suit, the doctors accused Charlotte-based Atrium of monopolistic and anti-competitive behavior, including ordering doctors to refer patients needing further care to Atrium facilities.

After the suit was filed, Atrium said it would grant the doctors' desire to go independent but first had to determine how to address the non-compete provisions.

Atrium said Wednesday it wishes the doctors will stay, noting it is offering them new employment agreements in hopes they reconsider.

"That door is still wide open," Atrium CEO Gene Woods told reporters.

Atrium is committed to Mecklenburg Medical, and the transition will be seamless for patients, Woods said. Atrium is in the process of hiring about 20 doctors to help fill the positions of the doctors who are leaving Mecklenburg Medical Group, he said.

"There's a lot more physicians that want to come and be part of us," Woods said.

The move by the doctors to split from Charlotte's dominant system is an unusual development, at a time when physician practices nationwide continue to be swallowed up by hospitals and even insurers.

Last week, in an effort to hang on to nurses and other Mecklenburg Medical staff, Atrium told those employees they can receive bonuses of up to 10 percent of their salaries if they remain with the system through the end of this year.

"We feel for our staff, and our first concern was making sure that they feel that we're with them," Woods said. "We offered them retention bonuses because some of them were scared about what the future is going to be."