Atrium Health agrees to part ways with Mecklenburg Medical Group after physicians sue for independence

Lawsuit document
Atrium Health has agreed to allow Mecklenburg Medical Group operate independently following a lawsuit. (Getty/eccolo74)

A medical group under Charlotte, North Carolina-based Atrium Health sued the system on Monday to be freed from their employment contracts and noncompete clauses. 

The nonprofit health system, which was until recently known as Carolinas HealthCare System, agreed to allow the Mecklenburg Medical Group operate independently, according to a statement emailed to FierceHealthcare.  

The lawsuit (PDF), obtained by Charlotte Agenda, includes 92 of the 104 doctors that work for Mecklenburg. The physicians claim that Atrium's "self-serving monopolistic and anticompetitive actions" hinder their ability to provide high-quality care to their patients. 

According to the suit, the health system has "complained" that it loses money backing the MMG doctors, but still refused to allow them to operate independently. 

"Atrium is acting as the exact opposite of the nonprofit health provider it claims to be," the physicians said in the suit. "Intervention of the court is required to prevent Atrium's corporate ambitions from causing irreparable harm to the plaintiff physicians and the thousands of citizens of Charlotte they serve every year." 

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In its statement, Atrium officials said they are determining the best way to deal with the noncompete agreements and hope physicians will stay with the system. The lawsuit, according to Atrium, was a "surprise," since officials have been in negotiations with the medical group as recently as last week.

The system and physicians at MMG have been discussing a future path since October, they said. 

"We worked hard to find a solution that would be mutually agreeable to everyone—and most importantly would ensure that our patients continue to get the best care possible," Atrium officials said in the statement. 

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Several other physicians working under Atrium Health revealed last month that they also intended to leave the system. Atrium's new compensation contracts spurred these doctors' exits which would require some physicians to take a salary cut. Atrium said at the time that only a few of the system's physicians had chosen not to sign the contracts. 

The system has been an active player in the merger market of late. Last year, it was in talks with UNC Health Care but ultimately suspended those negotiations. In February, Atrium announced it intends to merge with Georgia-based Navicent Health.