By Liora Engel-Smith

Cementing a relationship that began with the sale of New Hanover Regional Medical Center earlier this year, Novant, UNC Health and the medical school at UNC-Chapel Hill school announced a similar agreement is in the works for other Novant locations across North Carolina.

In a press release Thursday, the entities said they have set their sights on expanding medical education options at Novant facilities in Mecklenburg and Forsyth counties, though the partnership will also involve other sites. Novant spokeswoman Kristen Barnhardt said on Thursday that the details of the agreement are still being hashed out.

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The partnership will also establish a UNC School of Medicine branch at Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center in Charlotte. Novant patients will also get access to clinical trials being conducted in the UNC system, with all parties collaborating on rural health, population health and challenges such as the opioid epidemic, the release says.

“Our organizations are culturally aligned and committed to delivering safe, high-quality and affordable care, while improving health equity in the communities we serve,” said Novant leader Carl S. Armato in Thursday’s release. “This alignment allows us to expand access to medical education and clinical research across the state.”

Based in Winston-Salem, Novant Health has 15 medical centers and more than 600 clinics and ambulatory facilities, including in Charlotte, Winston-Salem, the Triangle, northern Virginia and Brunswick County. The health system is also in the process of purchasing New Hanover Regional Medical Center.

With a flagship hospital and medical school in the Triangle and a foothold across the state, UNC and its medical school will offer Novant access to clinical trials and research that health systems without a medical school sometimes lack. It also offers Novant a pipeline of providers in training, which is sure to help the system place physicians in some of its smaller facilities.

The University of North Carolina already has a medical school in Charlotte, where students can complete their third and fourth years of classroom work and clinical rotations. The UNC system has an existing partnership with Atrium. However, the Charlotte-based Novant rival recently announced it was partnering with the Winston-Salem based Wake Forest Baptist Health which is also affiliated with its own medical school. Atrium and Wake Forest University recently announced plans to build a second university-affiliated medical school in Charlotte.

UNC’s medical education partnership with Atrium is slated to dissolve as UNC shifts its medical school to Presbyterian Hospital, the Novant flagship facility in a neighborhood just outside of Uptown Charlotte. The university will establish a single campus in Charlotte at that location, said UNC Health spokesman Phil Bridges said in an email Thursday.

“I am excited for the opportunities ahead for Novant Health, UNC Health and UNC School of Medicine to build a healthier North Carolina and to train more physicians for North Carolina,” said Wesley Burks, who heads UNC Health and its medical school, in Thursday’s press release. “Our partnership will impact health in North Carolina for decades to come.”

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Liora Engel-Smith joined NC Health News in July 2019 and covers policies, programs and issues that affect rural areas. She has previously worked for the The Keene Sentinel in New Hampshire and the Muscatine...