With deal done, partners must deliver

February 7, 2014 

Johnston Health, which owns hospitals in Clayton and Smithfield, and UNC Health Care, a premier hospital system in North Carolina, are now partners. We suspect that’s a good thing.

Granted, the path to a partnership was shrouded in secrecy. Johnston Health leaders went behind closed doors to vet potential partners, including UNC Health Care. Hospital leaders also went behind closed doors to choose UNC and to hammer out the details of the partnership agreement they OK’d late last month.

That’s unfortunate, but it’s also water under the bridge. What matters now is whether the newly-inked partnership will be good for Johnston County residents and their health-care needs.

We know this much already: UNC Health Care will spend about $50 million to turn Johnston Medical Center in Clayton into a full-service hospital. In exchange, UNC will get six seats on the partnership’s governing board. But that’s not a majority of board seats, so Johnston County folks will still control Johnston County’s hospitals. That’s comforting.

What remains to be seen is whether UNC will bring its considerable health-care expertise to Johnston County. That expertise, according to various rankings, includes oncology, gynecology, gastroenterology, and ear, nose and throat care.

No doubt, Johnston County residents who fall ill will have easy access to UNC’s hospitals in Chapel Hill. That’s welcomed. But what we suspect Johnston residents would prefer is to have UNC services available to them in Clayton and Smithfield.

Early words from UNC Health Care are encouraging but not specific. “UNC Health Care is committed to enhancing Johnston Health’s capabilities while maintaining its community identity and culture,” said David Strong, chief operating officer of system affiliations. “We will look for ways to share best practices with our new partner hospital while bringing local residents more access to the specialized care, research and teaching that UNC Health Care focuses on each day.”

Those words are fine as far as they go. But what they don’t say specifically is that the breadth and quality of care in Smithfield and Clayton will be equal to the breadth and quality of care in Chapel Hill.

But that was the promise of a partnership with a larger health-care provider. Here’s hoping the new partners will deliver.

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