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Despite Public Statements, Doctors Say Atrium Hasn't Confirmed It Will Allow Split

Atrium Health, formerly known as Carolinas HealthCare System, is having a dispute with the Mecklenburg Medical Group.
Zuri Berry
Atrium Health, formerly known as Carolinas HealthCare System, is having a dispute with the Mecklenburg Medical Group.

The group of physicians that sued Atrium Health to void their non-compete agreements and operate independently hasn’t received confirmation from the health system that it will allow for the group to leave despite public statements saying otherwise.

The majority of doctors in the Mecklenburg Medical Group filed suit last week to have a court void their non-compete agreements. Afterward, Atrium said it wouldn't challenge the group's' decision to operate independently. In a press statement on April 2, Atrium said it was “granting their desire to go independent and determining the most appropriate way to address the non-compete provision."

Since then, the doctors say they haven't heard from Atrium. The attorney representing Mecklenburg Medical Group wrote Atrium a letter Wednesday, April 4, seeking confirmation the doctors could practice independently in Charlotte free of their non-compete restrictions. The letter also laid out a few terms for the separation; a physician would give at least thirty days' notice before leaving and all the doctors would leave before Jan. 1, 2019.

A spokesman for the doctors said the group hasn't received a response from Atrium yet. On Thursday, April 5, Atrium chief executive Gene Woods sent a staff memo reiterating that the health system would allow the group to leave.

"We will honor the decision by some of the physicians at Mecklenburg Medical Group to create a standalone practice," Woods wrote in the memo.

Woods went on to say he's proud of the more than 1,900 physicians who are staying with Atrium.

Patients of Mecklenburg Medical Group got an e-mail last week informing them that some of the doctors in the practice were "considering opening an office that will be separate from our Mecklenburg Medical Group practice and Atrium Health.”

The email went on to say, “we're still hopeful that your doctor decides to stay, and we're committed to keeping you updated as we know more over the coming weeks."

Dr. Dale Owen is a cardiologist with Mecklenburg Medical Group and the leader of the newly formed Mecklenburg Multispecialty Group. Mecklenburg Multispecialty includes the 92 doctors who filed suit to leave Atrium and start an independent practice. He says he wants a speedy split from Atrium to best serve patients and save any harm caused to Atrium.

"We believe it is the best interests of all parties … that these matters be resolved without needless delay, and our group's 92 doctors be allowed to operate independently of Atrium Health," Owen said.

"It is not our intent to do any harm to Atrium Health,” Owen added. “Our focus is on addressing these issues in a collegial and constructive way so we can work together to serve our patients in the best way possible."

Atrium said in a statement, “We continue to want our physicians to stay with Atrium Health and we continue to work with them as appropriate.  We stand by our statements and are in the process of determining the most appropriate ways to grant their request.”

updated at 4:44 p.m. Monday April 9, 2018.