University of North Carolina Hospitals in Chapel Hill must continue to provide free medical care to the needy because that's part of its mission and because it helps train doctors, hospital officials said.
"Outside of education, the first component of the hospital's mission is to ensure access to medical services for all the citizens of the state," consultant Lawrence Lewin told the UNC Board of Governors.
Lewin, chairman and chief executive officer of the Lewin Group, a Fairfax, Va., health research and consulting firm, presented a final draft of his report, mandated by the state Legislature, to the board's budget and finance committee earlier this month. The committee approved it, without comment, after peppering Lewin for 11/2 hours with questions.
The board retained the Lewin Group in response to a special act of the Legislature last year requiring it to study the impact of budget cuts on the 659-bed hospital. Legislators also asked about projected effects of an increasingly competitive healthcare market and federal cuts in Medicare and Medicaid.
The report is due to the Legislature's Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee by April 15.
Lewin said UNC Hospitals has two social missions: to provide healthcare for all North Carolina residents regardless of their ability to pay and to train the state's healthcare providers.
"It is possible to carry out an educational mission in the absence of indigent patients," UNC School of Medicine Dean Jeffrey Houpt said. "But it diminishes the quality and breadth of an education."
UNC Hospitals also needs more flexibility if it wants to compete, officials said. "We can't take seven months to determine if we can rent a piece of property," Houpt said. "We have to be able to move at the speed of competitors."
UNC system President Molly Broad said her office is reviewing existing legal structures on the hospitals.
The board's recommendations also ask for the full restoration of state funding.
This year the hospital received $36.5 million-down about $10 million from the previous year. It also faced a one-time $19.2 million cut in 1996-97.