ECU Physicians, East Carolina Neurology complete merger
By Doug Boyd
ECU News Services
Neurologists who have joined ECU are, seated from left to right, Drs. Christine Burch, Susan Boutilier, Shawnna Patterson and Don Price. Standing, from left to right, are Drs. Frank Fleming, Gregg Hardy, John Gibbs, Dmitri Kolychev and Robert Frere. Not pictured are Drs. Rukmini Menon, Eric Lindzen and Tony Breuer. Photo by Cliff Hollis
(Dec. 13, 2013)
ECU Physicians is now offering neurology care following a merger with East Carolina Neurology, a private physician practice in Greenville.
ECN, established in 1977 by Drs. Gregg Hardy and Frank Fleming and now a 12-physician group, joined the medical school during the summer. Its physicians are full-time clinical faculty of the new division of neurology within the Department of Internal Medicine at Brody. Through this appointment, they also have joined ECU Physicians, the school's group medical practice.
They will continue to see patients at their 24,000-square-foot practice at 2280 Hemby Lane and at their magnetic resonance imaging site at 402 Bowman Gray Drive. The practice sites will be called ECU Physicians Neurology and ECU Physicians MRI.
"I think this is a great opportunity for collaboration that will help the patients of eastern North Carolina," said Dr. Paul Bolin, chair of the Department of Internal Medicine at the Brody School of Medicine.
ECU and ECN have worked closely for years. Physicians at the practice have hosted medical students on clinical rotations and have held adjunct appointments at the school.
Late in 2010, physicians at the practice approached Bolin about developing a closer relationship. By the following summer, talks had turned to a formal merger. ECU and ECN leaders believed the time was right to combine their clinical programs and begin to develop multidisciplinary centers that will ultimately join other research and academic programs in the neurosciences at ECU and provide the next block in the building of a neurosciences institute.
The merger was completed July 31 of this year. Dr. Don Price of the neurology practice said today's health care environment made joining ECU a good business decision.
"The leadership of (the Brody School of Medicine) has encouraged us to continue our tradition of patient service, teaching and clinical research," he said. "Performing this work with the resources of ECU will be an added bonus for our patients and our staff."
Price and Drs. Frank Fleming, Gregg Hardy, Robert Frere, John Gibbs, Shawnna Patterson, Rukmini Menon, Eric Lindzen, Dmitri Kolychev and Tony Breuer and pediatric neurologists Susan Boutilier and Christine Burch are now faculty members at the Brody School of Medicine. More than 70 ECN staff members were offered permanent positions at ECU.
The practice treats patients with neurological disorders such as stroke, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, headache and more. Pediatric neurologists treat children with neurological problems, and the practice provides 24-hour coverage for neurology services at Vidant Medical Center. It has an average of 18 inpatients daily at VMC and in 2011 had 3,556 patient admissions.
Bringing expertise in neurological diseases such as stroke to ECU Physicians is an important step, Bolin said.
"Stroke is a problem everywhere, but it is a huge problem in eastern North Carolina," he said. The state is often referred to as "the buckle of the stroke belt." The stroke belt comprises much of the southeastern United States.
Bolin said one goal is to create an "umbrella of stroke coverage" for eastern North Carolina that includes a "telestroke" system that beams computed tomography scans of stroke patients to neurologists for fast diagnosis. He also wants to standardize stroke care.
He also said the practice has a tradition of research and education. ECN physicians have led grand rounds educational lectures at VMC and have received teaching awards from ECU medical students.
A neurology residency training program at ECU is also a possibility, he said.
Making the practice a part of ECU was a time-consuming procedure, said Brian Jowers, executive director of ECU Physicians. The school had to apply to the state for a certificate of need to acquire the practice's MRI and CT scanners.
"It was a lot of work, but it's been a worthwhile thing," Jowers said. "They'll bring ideas to us that will help us make our practice better."
The practice is also in the process of adopting ECU's electronic health record and billing procedures, he said. "But we did not restructure the way they take care of patients at all," he added.
ECU Physicians acquired the practice and the equipment, including the imaging machines. The ECU Foundation bought the buildings and is leasing them to ECU Physicians.
In 2008, the school and the neurosurgical practice Eastern Neurosurgical and Spine Associates merged. The Brody School of Medicine also has several basic science faculty members who are published experts in neuroscience.
"The physicians and staff are looking forward to our new relationship with ECU," Price said.
He added that joining the medical school could help recruit neurologists, especially those who subspecialize. Approximately 20 neurologists practice in the 29-county region of eastern North Carolina that Vidant Health serves, according to Joe Hodges, administrator of the neurology practice. The need in the region is about 26 neurologists, he said.
The practice provides specialty clinics for patients who have had a stroke and who have Parkinson's disease, ALS, multiple sclerosis, vestibular/dizziness disorders, headache, sleep disorders and epilepsy.
The practice has provided medical direction for the Vidant sleep center since it opened several years ago. The future of that center and how the neurologists might become part of the ECU Physicians sleep center are under discussion, Jowers said.
Nearly 95 percent of ECN patients have some form of private or government insurance. Jowers expects the practice to contribute more than $1.5 million after expenses to ECU Physicians' income by 2015.