The first 4-year med school is planned for Charlotte, Atrium and Wake Forest groups say

Atrium and Wake Forest plans to open Charlotte medical school

CHARLOTTE, NC (Deon Roberts/Charlotte Observer) - Atrium Health, Wake Forest Baptist Health and Wake Forest University announced Wednesday that they plan to join in a deal that will bring a four-year medical school to Charlotte — a major announcement for a city that lacks a four-year medical campus.

Charlotte-based Atrium, the metro area’s dominant hospital system, would combine with Wake Forest Baptist and the university under a memorandum of understanding signed Wednesday. Entering the agreement allows all three group to start exclusive negotiations, with the goal of entering into a final agreement this year, according to a news release.

For Charlotte, the combination would result in Wake Forest School of Medicine having a campus in the city, the three health care groups said. Where the school might go was not disclosed. But the groups said it could come to Charlotte over the next few years.

It was not immediately clear whether Atrium and the other groups would combine all of their operations or just work together on the medical school project.

“This is an exciting prospect that will have positive state and national impacts in addition to benefiting the Charlotte and Winston-Salem communities,” Nathan Hatch, president of Wake Forest University, said in a release.

“By strengthening medical education in Winston-Salem and bringing a medical school to Charlotte, we will open many doors for future health care leaders and also play a nationally leading role in research,” he stated.

The three groups also said their plan would make health care more accessible and affordable for the nearly 6.8 million residents near the systems’ service areas, which include cities and rural markets.

It was not immediately clear what the combined organization would be called.

In a statement, Atrium said the signing of Wednesday’s agreement signals “the very beginning of in-depth discussions regarding the specific details of what our coming together could ultimately become.” The groups will be working to mutually agree on the naming and branding of the new entity, Atrium said.

PRIOR DEAL SCRAPPED

The Wake Forest deal is the latest effort by Atrium to get bigger.

Last year, Atrium said it had ended discussions with UNC Health Care of Chapel Hill to form a joint operating company, citing an inability to reach an agreement to form a mega-system. Also last year, Atrium closed on a deal to combine with Georgia-based health care system Navicent.

On Wednesday, Atrium, Wake Forest and Wake Forest University touted their proposed combination as a way to improve the health of the region and beyond as well as conducting medical research.

“Phenomenal things can happen when like-minded partners, committed to the same transformative vision, come together in new ways to better serve our patients and communities,” Atrium CEO Gene Woods said in a statement.

He noted, for example, that Wake Forest School of Medicine and Wake Forest Baptist Health are national leaders in studying how to help people age with a much higher quality of life.

This is a developing story.