By Liora Engel-Smith
A coastal North Carolina hospital has joined a selective network associated with Mayo Clinic. Carteret Health Care is the first health care facility in the state to have joined the Mayo Clinic Care Network, granting it access to expert consultations and other services.
“It’s not a merger … they [Mayo] don’t want that, [and] our board, our management doesn’t want that,” said Dick Brvenik, who heads the Morehead City hospital. “We’re in the relationship so we can improve our quality, improve our performance as a high-quality, independent hospital and health network, that’s what we want and that’s what we’re getting.”
Established in 2011, the Mayo Clinic Care Network has more than 40 hospitals in the U.S. and around the world. Member organizations pay a fee to be part of the network but are expected to retain a certain level of quality in their operations. Members retain all control over governance and other activities, said Ryan Uitti, medical director of the southeast of Mayo Clinic Care Network, who characterized the arrangement as “a clinical working relationship.”
Mayo Clinic has a flagship hospital in Rochester, Minnesota and other locations across the country. With 4,900 subspecialists, patients with difficult-to-treat ailments flock to its facilities from all over. Members of the care network can, but aren’t required to, refer patients to Mayo Clinic hospitals.
Brvenik said the Carteret County hospital underwent a rigorous vetting process before it entered the network. Discussions about the process began more than a year ago, he added. The 135-bed hospital is one of a few county-owned facilities remaining in North Carolina. Joining the network, Brvenik said, would ensure its future as an independent entity.
“This will give us the capacity to enhance the quality of care, to enhance keeping care locally for our patients by providing access to this world-class quality of their facilities, and their brilliant medical minds,” he said.
The news comes at a time that another county-owned health care facility on the coast — New Hanover Regional Medical Center — is exploring a potential sale.
Like New Hanover Regional, the Carteret hospital appears to be financially healthy, in a community that’s got a healthy economy where the unemployment rate is 3.7 percent and the 2018 per capita income is $49,360, according to the N.C. Department of Commerce.
A summary of an audited report on the Carteret County website says that in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2018, the county reported that the hospital had a total margin of $18.5 million for 2017. With roughly 1,100 employees, including about 150 part-time and full-time medical staff, the hospital was the second largest employer in the county in 2017.
An association with Mayo, a hospital system known for its patient-centered and specialty care, has the potential to attract even more patients to the coastal hospital, particularly because it is the only facility that belongs to the network in the Carolinas.
Others to follow?
Uitti said that Carteret may not be the only hospital in North Carolina to join the network, though Mayo selects facilities that aren’t in direct competition with other members.
“There are some states where we have more than one hospital,” he said. “And it certainly could very well be the future in North Carolina and South Carolina.”
A prospective network member must meet certain quality and financial standards, Uitti said, and its mission and values must align with Mayo Clinic’s mission to provide patient-centered care.
Carteret met those criteria, he said.
“Patients in the Carteret region who are taken care of by that health system will now have access to additional expertise when needed such that they can get a second opinion, if you will — more input — regarding their care without ever having to leave their community,” he said.
Brvenik stressed that though the hospital is paying a fee to be part of the network, patients will receive those benefits at no additional cost. Some of the perks would entail physician-to-physician consultations with Mayo experts, special staff trainings and patient access to Mayo’s clinical trials.
“This is a game-changer,” he said. “And I truly believe this is when I say [it’s] transformational. This makes it possible for so much enhanced information, enhanced benefit for patients.”