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Fetzer joins WakeMed's PR consulting team

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.

Adding Fetzer gives WakeMed more political muscle on the right. 

CEOs at WakeMed, UNC Health meet in Raleigh

The CEOs at WakeMed and the UNC Health Care System met privately in Raleigh this week, the first meeting since the two health-care titans began an unusual, public brawl last month.

WakeMed accused UNC Health of using "predatory" tactics to compete for physicians and patients in the fast-growing Wake County medical market. WakeMed submitted a formal request for financial information and other records related to UNC's strategy.

UNC Health denies the charges, but insists it can't sit out of Wake County as changes and consolidation reshape the health-care landscape.

Officials, including WakeMed CEO Bill Atkinson, WakeMed Chairwoman Billie Redmond and UNC Health CEO Bill Roper, met for about an hour and a half on Monday afternoon.

Novartis to expand in Holly Springs, add 100 jobs

Novartis plans to expand its massive Holly Springs vaccine plant, adding a $36 million research lab focused on preventive medicine and 100 jobs during the next two years.

This morning, state officials approved giving the Swiss drug maker incentives worth as much as $3.7 million if it meets hiring and investment goals. Holly Springs will also provide $1 million.

The new jobs will pay average wages of $106,200. Novartis also considered building the facility in Italy.

Novartis opened the $600 million Holly Springs plant last year, and expects to begin commercial vaccine production in 2013. The facility now employs about 230 people.

WakeMed to open downtown Raleigh doctors' practice

WakeMed is preparing to open a primary care physicians' practice in downtown Raleigh, betting that it can attract workers and the swelling population of residents.

Wake County's largest hospital system expects to open its City Center Medical Group next month at 150 E. Davie St. The practice will occupy street-level space in 2 Progress Plaza, one of Raleigh's newest developments, that became vacant last fall when Iatria Day Spa closed.

"We've heard from residents that this was a void that needed to be filled, so they don't have to drive everywhere to get basic services," said David Diaz, CEO of the Downtown Raleigh Alliance. "We obviously hope that it succeeds."

WakeMed seeks records from rival UNC Health

WakeMed today submitted a formal request for financial statements and other records from UNC Health, to determine if the system has been using public money to "shift services and gain an unfair competitive advantage over WakeMed, other hospitals and physician practices throughout the community."

WakeMed, which is trying to protect its position as Wake County's largest hospital system, claims that recent actions by UNC and its its Raleigh subsidiary Rex Healthcare will drive up medical costs for consumers, and do little to improve care in the Triangle. That includes recent affiliations with local physician practices, and proposed expansions at Rex's main Raleigh campus.

“WakeMed made the request due to numerous recent transactions by UNC Health Care which have raised serious public-policy questions,” said WakeMed CEO Bill Atkinson, in a prepared statement. “Specifically, the records request is to determine if UNC Health Care and Rex Healthcare are improperly using taxpayer dollars to compete with WakeMed and other health care institutions by investing in physician practices and other facilities.”

UNC and Rex officials have said that such moves will provide needed services to a growing population. They also say that the federal health overhaul is spurring such actions to improve cost and quality.

Modality of Durham bought by Epocrates

A small Durham company that sells training and reference applications for iPhones and iPads has been acquired by a California technology firm for $13.8 million.

Modality, which was founded in 2006 by CEO S. Mark Williams, became a subsidiary of Epocrates this month. The San Mateo, Calif.-based company's products include mobile drug-reference tools for physicians and pharmaceutical salesmen.

Epocrates filed plans in July to raise as much as $75 million in an initial public offering. Buying Modality will expand its product lineup and could help attract more attention on Wall Street.

"We're always looking at ways to add value for physicians," said Epocrates CEO Rosemary Crane. "We were looking for great technology and great apps."

Cost spikes for employer-based health coverage

The cost for employer-sponsored medical coverage rose 6.9 percent this year, much higher than the rate of broader inflation and the sharpest increase since 2004, according to a national survey released this morning.

The average benefit cost per employee rose to $9,562, showed the annual survey by Charlotte-based analysts with benefits consulting firm Mercer.

Employers expect big increases again in 2011, driven by prices for health-care services, increased usage and changes mandated by the federal health overhaul. Total costs are expected to rise about 10 percent, but most employers will continue making changes to limit increases.

Those efforts, including increasing deductibles and passing on costs to workers, will likely eat into employees' paychecks and continue to erode household budgets.

WakeMed to pay workers $7.65 mln in bonuses

Wake County's largest hospital system plans to pay most of its more than 7,000 employees about $7.65 million in bonuses after beating annual financial goals.

WakeMed will hand out checks worth about 2 percent of workers' annual salaries on Dec. 3. The money will provide a small boost for the local economy, give families more to spend as the holidays approach and help WakeMed stay competitive with this region's other major health systems.

Rex bids for Pepsi money to buy DVDs

Rex Healthcare's bid to buy DVD players and Netflix subscriptions for cancer patients getting chemotherapy has been selected as a finalist in the Pepsi Refresh Project for November.

The Pepsi project awards money to a wide range of ideas that will have a positive impact. Winners are chosen by public vote, and visitors to the website can vote once a day through Nov. 30. There's also a link at the top of Rex's website.

The Raleigh hospital proposed using the $5,000 grant to develop "The Hollywood Treatment." The program would purchase 20 portable DVD players, 20 headphones and 2-year subscriptions to Netflix's DVD service.

US Oncology to be bought for $2.16 billion

US Oncology, which helps manage Cancer Centers of North Carolina, agreed to be bought for $2.16 billion by drug distributor McKesson.

Texas-based US Oncology provides services and supplies to more than 1,300 oncologists across the country, including access to clinical research.

In this market, that includes an affiliation with Cancer Centers of North Carolina, which has clinics in Raleigh, Cary, Clayton and Dunn. That group, established as Raleigh Hematology Oncology Associates in 1979 by Dr. William Berry, affiliated with US Oncology in 1995.

The McKesson deal is the latest tied to changes coming under the federal health overhaul, including cuts in reimbursement by Medicare and Medicaid. While patients won't notice much change for now, new affiliations and business agreements could reshape much of the industry.

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