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Beginning January 1, 2016 Appalachian Regional Healthcare System (ARHS) will enter into a strategic partnership with Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center’s Department of Emergency Medicine for physician services in its emergency department (ED) at Watauga Medical Center in Boone. In February, Wake Forest Baptist will also provide these same services at Charles A. Cannon, Jr. Memorial Hospital in Linville.

Watauga Medical CenterARHS President and CEO, Richard Sparks commented on the new partnership by saying, “Wake Forest Baptist has a track record of success in providing more than 150 specialized emergency physicians for their own facilities, and other healthcare systems across North Carolina including Cone Health and Catawba Valley Medical Center. These providers see more than half a million patients each year. In addition, they are nationally recognized for their expertise in patient care, research and education.”

When asked what led ARHS to the new relationship with Wake Forest Baptist, Sparks responded, “The dynamics of healthcare delivery, particularly in a rural setting, are constantly changing. One of our biggest challenges today is recruiting and retaining emergency care physicians to join our team to serve the needs of the community.”

Cannon Memorial Hospital Sparks added, “If we employ a team of ED physicians – and then two or three of them decide to pursue employment elsewhere – we’re forced to use temporary physicians and/or ask our remaining ED physicians to work additional hours, until we can fill the void. This scenario is not ideal for our community or for our physicians. This relationship with Wake Forest Baptist will allow our community to benefit from their extensive network of highly trained emergency physicians.”

Leveraging Resources Through Strategic Partnerships

ARHS has developed many strategic partnerships with other healthcare systems over the years to improve patient care for the region. ARHS has a long history of partnership with Wake Forest Baptist including:

  • The Area Health Education Centers program, which serves to enhance access to high quality, culturally competent healthcare through academic-community partnerships in rural and underserved areas.
  • A financial management consulting agreement, whereby ARHS provides revenue cycle and ICD-10 consulting to Alleghany Memorial Hospital under contract with Wake Forest Baptist.
  • Telestroke services partnership in which Wake Forest Baptist provides 24/7 access to acute stroke experts via two-way, real time video – in order to prevent death and reduce disability.

For many healthcare systems across the country, clinical affiliations of this type have emerged as an attractive alternative to mergers and acquisitions. Sparks added, “I want to be clear that we are not merging with Wake Forest Baptist. We both desire to remain operating as independent healthcare systems, but recognize there are ways that we can complement each other as we seek to deliver quality healthcare for the region.”

This new partnership with Wake Forest Baptist will be seamless for patients. Patients that enter the EDs at Watauga Medical Center after January 1 (or February 1, at Charles A. Cannon, Jr. Memorial Hospital) should expect the same high-quality emergency care they have experienced previously from ARHS.

Richard Sparks summarized his feelings about this new relationship with Wake Forest Baptist by saying, “Whenever we see an opportunity that will help our community, it’s our responsibility to pursue it. This relationship will most certainly have a positive impact for patients visiting our hospital emergency departments.”

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