Serving Patients Across North Carolina

In recent years, it has become harder for independent community hospitals to thrive on their own. This transition has resulted in significant and rapid growth for UNC Health Care.

A number of independent hospitals have asked us to assist them. Most recently, they have requested we manage their hospitals while they remain separate legal entities.

We have two criteria for deciding the communities in which we will partner:

  1. We only go where we are invited; and
  2. Any involvement we might have must be at least “budget neutral” for us.

At UNC Health Care, we are committed to serving patients across North Carolina. We recently forged new relationships with Wayne Memorial Hospital and Lenoir Memorial Hospital, which means our organization now includes 10 hospitals and hospital systems across the state. We are truly serving patients across North Carolina. This is right on target with our mission as the state’s health care system: to improve the health of all North Carolinians, regardless of their ability to pay.

While this growth makes good business sense and ties directly to our mission, to some, it may seem like a lot of growth in a short amount of time. However, I strongly believe that our expansion is good for our patients. When hospitals across the state ask us to partner with them, and the partnership can be accomplished in a way that is mutually beneficial, we will be there to help serve patients in the communities where they live.

I am extremely proud that we have had the opportunity to provide even more North Carolinians with the highest level of empathetic and expert care. And we will continue to do so, as long as it continues to benefit the people of our state.

Research Leads to Better Patient Outcomes

As dean of the UNC School of Medicine and CEO of UNC Health Care, I have the fortune of working alongside some of the best and brightest minds in health care. Through research, innovation and advanced health care delivery, they are responsible for tackling some of our most pressing health care challenges.

For instance, for the first time, a global research effort led by John Buse, MD, PhD, professor of medicine at the UNC School of Medicine and director of the UNC Diabetes Center, determined that a new Type 2 diabetes therapy proves better than traditional insulin injections.

The drug IDegLira proved to be more effective than basal insulin glargine injections at reducing the average amount of blood sugar over the course of several months. The new therapy was also associated with weight loss and a substantially lower rate of hypoglycemia – i.e., low blood sugar – compared with more commonly used injections, a major development in the treatment of Type 2 diabetes.

Another area where our researchers are making breakthroughs is in autism and neurodegenerative diseases.  Dr. Mark Zylka, PhD, associate professor of cell biology and physiology at UNC, led a team of researchers who published a study on the role that a new class of fungicides could play in autism and neurodegenerative disease. Along with his team, Dr. Zylka found a class of commonly used fungicides that produce gene expression changes similar to those in people with autism and neurodegenerative conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease and Huntington’s disease. The study, published in Nature Communications, describes a new way to home in on chemicals that have the potential to affect brain functions.

This is the kind of research that makes UNC one of the leading academic medical centers in the nation. More importantly, research drives better care and leads to more effective treatments.

For more information on the diabetes study, click here.

For more information on the fungicide study, click here.

Using Technology to Research and More Effectively Treat Postpartum Depression

At UNC, we are always looking for new and innovative ways of delivering better, more complete care. Recently, researchers from the UNC School of Medicine launched a free iPhone app to engage women in a genetics research study about postpartum depression (PPD) and most importantly, to understand the causes and find more effective treatments.

The ResearchKit app, called PPD ACT, surveys women to identify those who have had symptoms of PPD. The app also invites certain women based on survey responses to provide DNA samples so that researchers can study the genes of those impacted by PPD.

Samantha Meltzer-Brody, MD, MPH, director of the Perinatal Psychiatry Program at the UNC Center for Women’s Mood Disorders, and Patrick Sullivan, MD, director of the UNC Center for Psychiatric Genomics, led efforts to design the study and develop the app.

This is the kind of innovative, meaningful work that makes UNC a leader in medicine and enables us to continue best serving our growing patient population.

To download the app, click here.

To learn more about the study, click here.

Expanding the School of Medicine Across the State

The UNC School of Medicine serves North Carolinians in all 100 counties of the state, reaching rural communities and underserved populations. And that task is only getting bigger as our population continues to grow. That is why we are taking steps to address this challenge, including expanding our School of Medicine to Wilmington, North Carolina.

Nearly 1 million North Carolinians live in areas that do not have adequate access to primary care physicians and services. It’s no secret that our state needs more doctors, and the UNC School of Medicine takes this very seriously.

Beginning in March 2016, the School of Medicine will open a campus at New Hanover Regional Medical Center, a teaching hospital in Wilmington. Up to 24 third- and fourth-year medical students will complete one-year core clerkships in an environment where today’s brightest minds can expand what’s possible in medicine.

Additionally, students in this program will have the opportunity to complete a Physicians Leadership Certificate Program delivered through the Cameron School of Business at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.

We look forward to continuing to expand the reach of the next generation of physicians across our state.

More information on the program can be found here.



Connect NC: An Investment in the Future

At UNC Health Care and the UNC School of Medicine, we are constantly working to improve our services for patients, our research and the way we train physicians to best meet our mission. However, in one area we are lagging behind.

At the UNC School of Medicine, Berryhill Hall is where our students train. Built more than 50 years ago, it served the needs of its time. But its auditorium-style classroom is antiquated, and it can no longer accommodate our anticipated class size of 230.

In recent years, teaching styles have changed. Our students now learn through collaborative teaching, and advanced technology is integrated into the classroom, mirroring the way that modern doctors should practice. Class size is also increasing. A larger class size is necessary to help meet the growing demand for physicians to serve the needs of our state.

Since 1879, the UNC School of Medicine has had the distinct privilege of training the next generations of physicians, clinicians, scientists and health professionals to serve North Carolinians. In fact, the UNC School of Medicine serves North Carolinians in all 100 counties of the state, reaching rural communities and underserved populations. That is something we are very proud of, but it also is a challenge, given the rapidly growing and aging population.

On March 15, North Carolina voters will decide on a proposed $2 billion bond package that would go to higher education, safety and parks, among other things. If passed, the bond would allocate $68 million toward renovating Berryhill Hall.

An up-to-date facility with advanced technology would help us attract today’s brightest minds, accommodate a larger class size and continue developing groundbreaking research.

To remain a leader in medicine and to continue serving the needs of our growing population, we need to provide an environment where today’s brightest minds can expand what is possible in medicine.

Please vote on March 15.


UNC Health Care on the Zika Virus

Across the state, researchers are ramping up efforts to combat the spread of the Zika virus, which was declared a global public health emergency by the World Health Organization on Monday. UNC Health Care’s top priority is the safety of our patients across the state. While no cases of this mosquito-borne disease have been reported in North Carolina, we are learning everything we can about the virus as quickly as possible so that we can help develop a solution.

Our hospitals across the state are following the CDC’s guidelines and recommending that pregnant women, and women planning to get pregnant, avoid traveling to affected areas, as the Zika virus is thought to cause microcephaly, a neurological disorder in which babies are born with abnormally small heads and brains. UNC Maternal-Fetal Medicine specialists are offering consultations to pregnant women who have recently traveled to affected areas.

It is important to remember that the mosquitos carrying the virus are not active year-round in North Carolina. This may help reduce the rate of transmission in our state. However, if you plan to travel to affected areas, please take precautionary measures, such as using insect repellent (DEET is most effective), wearing long pants and sleeves, sleeping under mosquito netting in endemic areas and avoiding the outdoors during periods of peak mosquito activity.

The transmission of the Zika virus is extremely serious. We want North Carolinians to know that UNC Health Care is prepared for the safe care of patients with highly communicable diseases. We will continue to update our co-workers and the general public with relevant updates as they become available.

To learn more about the Zika virus, please click here.

An Investment in Funding and an Investment in Our Future

Over the past couple of weeks, I have been reflecting on President Obama’s final State of the Union address. While there are certainly points of contention with any presidential address, this year I believe he emphasized one point we can all agree on. President Obama commended Congress for passing $2 billion increase in funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the largest increase in more than a decade. As we embark on 2016, I urge my colleagues to use this investment to tackle our greatest challenges in health and health care.

At UNC-Chapel Hill, we receive more NIH funding than any other entity in the state. This helps us produce treatments and discoveries that will improve health care for tomorrow. With this additional funding, we can seek new and better ways of doing things and challenging conventional wisdom is how we make progress. Take Aziz Sancar, professor at the UNC School of Medicine and Nobel Prize laureate. Along with his colleagues, Dr. Sancar unraveled how our cells fight back against DNA damage, a tremendous step toward helping us understand hereditary disorders and cancer.

President Obama also made a vow to use these resources to help America find a cure for cancer. This is a lofty, yet very important, goal. Along with my colleagues at the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and the School of Medicine, I am confident that we are well on our way. Thanks to a greater emphasis on medical research, we can further those efforts.

Today, I would like to celebrate the president’s emphasis on embracing change, innovation and research. We at UNC Health Care will continue our efforts to answer the president’s – and thousands of patients’ – call.

I have no doubt that we will. As the president so aptly put it, “…spirit of discovery is in our DNA.”