Atrium Health, Wake Forest Baptist Health eyeing plan to merge, create new medical school

Atrium Health, Wake Forest Baptist Health and Wake Forest University are exploring a merger that would create a new academic health system.

The three organizations signed a memorandum of understanding to enter exclusive negotiations to explore a partnership that would create a new medical school in Charlotte and create an "expanded research and innovation core" in Winston-Salem. They expect to have a final agreement later this year.

The announcement comes just more than a year after merger discussions between Atrium Health (formerly known as Carolinas HealthCare System) with UNC Health Care fell apart. Carolinas rebranded last spring to Atrium. It ultimately completed a merger with the much smaller Georgia-based Navicent, a deal which took effect this January

Atrium has 14 million patient interactions annually at 42 hospitals and more than 900 care locations. Wake Forest Baptist is an academic medical center with 2.2. million patient interactions across seven hospitals and more than 400 care locations.

The deal is expected to bring Atrium Health's clinical programs in cancer, pediatrics, heart and musculoskeletal care and Wake Forest Baptists clinic leadership and research in aging and Alzheimer's disease, cancer, cardiovascular disease, obesity, neurosciences and regenerative medicine. 

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They also expect to invest in a proposed Translational Research and Population Health Center in Winston-Salem. The aim of such a center would be to accelerate best practices for patients, drawing from the experience and track record of CHESS, the organizations' population health services company. They expect to educate nearly 3,200 total healthcare learners across more than 100 specialized training programs each year and attract top medical education faculty to enhance innovative teaching methods and create new models of care, adding to the already 1,650 full-time and part-time faculty positions at Wake Forest School of Medicine and Atrium Health.

They also expect to offer the largest post-graduate fellowship program for Nurse Practitioners and Physician Assistants in the nation, as well as critical experience for medical student education throughout an integrated academic healthcare system.

"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," said Eugene A. Woods, president and CEO of Atrium Health in a statement. "For example, Wake Forest School of Medicine and Wake Forest Baptist Health are national leaders in studying how to help people age better, and with a much higher quality of life. Last year at Atrium Health, we cared for more than 350,000 patients over the age of 65, and by 2035, one in five U.S. residents will be over that age. Just imagine the powerful possibilities to advance modern medicine by linking breakthrough science directly with our patients in a way that significantly enhances their cognitive and physical functioning—and allows them to live independently for longer."

RELATED: Duke, UNC Health among health systems to join value-based program with Blue Cross NC

In January, Wake Forest Baptist was one of five major health systems are teaming up with one of North Carolina's largest insurers Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (Blue Cross NC) to launch a new value-based care program. It came about a year after the health system announced it and Novant would team up to merged medical records, allowing patients to access their information through a single portal. 

Wake Forest Baptist works "as one" with the Wake Forest University School of Medicine, officials said. The school receives more than 10,700 applications for 145 Doctor of Medicine positions annually. Officials say the combination between Wake Forest and Atrium Health's medical educational programs would give future providers the opportunity to focus on evidence-based care, affordability initiatives, as well as leading quality and patient safety best practices.

It would build on the Wake Forest Bowman Gray Center for Medical Education in Winston-Salem's Innovation Quarter and officials said they expect a second innovation campus in Charlotte over the next few years.