WakeMed, already armed with veteran PR consultants with Democratic ties, has recruited some Republican firepower.
Tom Fetzer, who plans to step down as chairman of the state GOP next month, has taken WakeMed as his first consulting client. "Hopefully there will be others," he said.
Last month, WakeMed launched a PR and political fight with its Chapel Hill rival, the UNC Health Care System. WakeMed officials have accused UNC Health of using its taxpayer support to pay for "predatory" expansion and disrupt the Wake County medical market.
To assist with its UNC Health dispute, WakeMed officials previously hired Gary Pearce and Joyce Fitzpatrick, who are well-connected public relations consultants. Pearce worked for former Gov. Jim Hunt and wrote Hunt's recently published biography. Fitzpatrick has worked for former U.S. Sen. John Edwards, among others.
Adding Fetzer gives WakeMed more political muscle on the right. In addition to its dispute with UNC Health, WakeMed is looking ahead to the new General Assembly returning next month. Lawmakers are expected to tackle various health-care issues as they wrestle with the enormous budget deficit, including looking at ways to slash Medicaid costs.
Fetzer, the former mayor of Raleigh, has strong ties to WakeMed. He did his Eagle Scout project at the hospital's Cerebral palsy unit as a teenager. In the early 1980s, his father spent five months at the hospital following a heart attack. Fetzer also has served on WakeMed's board.
"The hospital is close to my heart," he said in a phone interview. "I'm proud to work with them."
His new role will be similar to what Pearce and Fitzpatrick are doing, he said. That includes helping WakeMed with messaging, positioning and strategy.
"It may involve some lobbying and I will register at the appropriate time," he added.
Fetzer said that he's looking forward to taking on new challenges after stepping down as chairman of the state Republican party in mid-January. Fetzer said he would resign to spend more time with his wife and infant son.
There also have been rumors he might seek another political office, but Fetzer said he doesn't plan a campaign "in the near future."
"I have a different set of priorities as a new husband and a new father," he said. "I don't think running for office will fit into those new priorities."