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Here's where things stand with Atrium and the doctors who want to break away

Atrium Health's flagship hospital in Dilworth. A group of Mecklenburg Medical Group doctors plans to operate independently of Atrium and announced eight new office locations across the Charlotte area.
Atrium Health's flagship hospital in Dilworth. A group of Mecklenburg Medical Group doctors plans to operate independently of Atrium and announced eight new office locations across the Charlotte area. deroberts@charlotteobserver.com

A group of Mecklenburg Medical Group doctors seeking to operate independently of Atrium Health say they have not received a "substantive response" from the hospital system since announcing their plans to break away a week ago.

Charlotte-based Atrium announced April 2 it will grant the request from the 92 doctors to break away and operate as a new group named Mecklenburg Multispecialty Group, after the physicians sued for their independence that day.

An attorney for the doctors sent a letter April 4 to Atrium's attorney seeking to settle the dispute in light of Atrium's comments. But a spokesman for the doctors said Monday the only response the doctors received was a one-sentence email from Atrium's attorney Friday saying the system was still reviewing the lawsuit.

"We believe it is the best interests all parties — Atrium Health, Mecklenburg Multispeciality Group and Mecklenburg Medical Group's current employees and patients — that these matters be resolved without needless delay, and our group's 92 doctors be allowed to operate independently of Atrium Health," Dr. Dale Owen, a cardiologist spearheading the effort to split away, said in a statement.

"It is not our intent to do any harm to Atrium Health," Owen said. "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 in a statement reiterated that it wants the doctors to remain with the system but also noted: "We stand by our statements and are in the process of determining the most appropriate ways to grant their request."

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In their civil suit filed in Mecklenburg County Superior Court, the doctors at one of Atrium's best-known doctors practices accused the system formerly known as Carolinas HealthCare of monopolistic and anti-competitive behavior. That behavior includes ordering the doctors in most instances to refer patients needing further care to Atrium-owned or managed facilities, according to the doctors' lawsuit. The doctors say they want out of Atrium non-compete restrictions so they could practice independently.

In a statement responding to the suit, Atrium said it was determining how to address the non-compete restrictions but did not provide additional details.

Monday's move by the doctors comes after Atrium CEO Gene Woods in an internal memo Thursday said the system will honor the decision by the physicians to separate. Woods also expressed disappointment that the doctors sued "while we were in the middle of active discussions."

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