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Roper To Step Down As CEO Of UNC Health Care And Dean Of Medical School

Dr. William Roper will step down from his positions as CEO of UNC Health Care and dean of UNC School of Medicine in 2019.
UNC Health Care

UNC Health Care CEO Dr. William Roper announced he will step down.

Roper, who also serves as the dean of the UNC School of Medicine, plans to stay on for another year. He will leave in May of 2019, according to UNC officials.

"It has been a high honor to serve with so many talented and committed people. I know that our team is well equipped to continue taking on the challenges of a rapidly evolving medical and health care landscape," Roper said though a released statement. "Our mission, our patients and our providers are in good hands."

The announcement comes three months after what would have been a massive health care partnership fell through. In August, UNC Health Care and Atrium Health in Charlotte announced plans for a partnership, but those never materialized and were called off in early March. That partnership would have created a health system with 60 hospitals and 90,000 employees, but faced questions, including from State Treasurer Dale Folwell.

Roper earns a base salary of $837,700 from UNC.

Under Roper, the hospital system has undergone significant growth. Roper joined UNC-Chapel Hill as dean of the School of Public Health in 1997. In 2004, he became CEO of UNC Health Care, dean of the School of Medicine and vice chancellor for medical affairs. That year, the hospital recorded $1.1 billion in annual revenue. This year, the hospital system is on pace to book revenue of $5.2 billion, according to UNC financial information.

At the UNC School of Medicine, total research funding has increased more than 50 percent since 2004 to $441 million last year.

Under his watch, the system has also taken its share of criticism. Dr. Bill Atkinson, the former CEO of Raleigh hospital system WakeMed Health and Hospitals, criticized UNC for not doing its part to treat mental and behavioral health and indigent patients in Wake County.

Tensions between the two hospital systems escalated to the point that Atkinson made a hostile tender offer for UNC/Rex Healthcare, the private hospital wholly owned by UNC. Atkinson argued that Rex wasn't pulling its share of charity care patients, leaving WakeMed, with its history as the county hospital, to care for those unable to pay.

Cooler heads prevailed, and after a few rounds of meetings, Roper announced UNC would open UNC Wakebrook, a mental and behavioral health hospital directly next to the WakeMed Raleigh campus, and invest more in health care programs for poor and indigent patients in the county.

Atkinson has since left WakeMed and the relationship between the two hospitals has improved, though there remains a competitive spirit. Rex recently opened N.C. Heart and Vascular Hospital at its main campus in west Raleigh, for example. Vascular and related procedures have long been one of WakeMed's strengths.

More recently, UNC and Duke Health faced accusations from radiologists that the hospital systems conspired to not poach each other's talent. An anti-trust lawsuit claimed this suppressed wages.

A Commitment to Rural Health

In taking a statewide perspective, Roper served a role in helping smaller hospitals after the Great Recession. Especially in rural areas, small hospitals have struggled financially. Around the state, UNC has formed varying kinds of partnerships aimed at keeping hospitals open. Most recently, UNC agreed to acquire Morehead Memorial in Eden out of bankruptcy.

In addition, the UNC School of Medicine has no fewer than five different programs aimed at sending its graduates into rural health, and particularly into primary care in these underserved areas.

"Without question, Dr. Roper has a proven track record of service to our state, our people and to our future health," said Dale Jenkins, chair of the UNC Health Care board of directors, in a statement. "Throughout a long career of public service, he has made an impact on health care nationally, but most importantly, he has elevated health care to new levels here in North Carolina."

Before coming to UNC, Roper was senior vice president of Prudential Health Care. Prior to that, he was director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), served on the senior White House staff, and was administrator of the Health Care Financing Administration, which is responsible for Medicare and Medicaid. Earlier, he was a White House Fellow.

"Dr. Roper has championed a broad range of innovative teaching, treatment and patient-care initiatives that have expanded and rippled across our state to provide patients with quality, accessible and affordable health care," said UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol L. Folt in a statement. "Bill has provided a remarkable record of leadership, always with the people of North Carolina in his heart and on his mind."

Jason deBruyn is WUNC's Supervising Editor for Digital News, a position he took in 2024. He has been in the WUNC newsroom since 2016 as a reporter.
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