Doctors from another area hospital group split off to join Tryon Medical Partners

Seven doctors have announced they will split from CaroMont Medical Group in Gaston County to join Tryon Medical Partners.

Tryon Medical Partners is comprised of nearly 100 doctors who ditched Atrium Health — and bucked national trends — to form their own practice last year. Tryon Medical and the seven Gaston County doctors plan to open a clinic called Tryon Medical Partners – Gaston on Dec. 2.

This would be Tryon Medical’s first expansion outside of Mecklenburg County. The new 20,000-square-foot clinic will be Tryon Medical Partner’s first Gaston County location.

But first, the new doctors are suing their old hospital system, in an echo of the lawsuit filed by Tryon Medical Partners to leave Atrium Health.

Tryon Medical Partners, then 92 physicians in the Mecklenburg Medical Group, filed a civil suit April 2, 2018, in the Mecklenburg County Superior Court accusing the hospital system of monopolistic and anti-competitive behavior.

The seven Gaston doctors serve more than 20,000 patients in the county, according to a Tryon Medical statement. The doctors are David Locklear, Jessica Kafer, Michael McCartney, Gregory O’Leary, Derek Reed, Caroline Stephens and Brian Wysong.

They make up nearly half of CaroMont’s South Point Family Practice, which lists 17 providers on its website.

Doctors breaking off from hospitals systems goes against the nationwide trend of healthcare consolidation, Duke Law School professor Barak Richman told the Observer after Tryon Medical’s split in 2018.

But Tryon Medical Partner CEO Dale Owen said he expects to see more doctors leaving hospital systems in the future.

Dr. Dale Owen Bryan Bazemore Studios

“This is our goal, this is our mission,” he said. “And that’s to free physicians from hospital systems so they can take care of patients in the most efficient, cost efficient and value-based way possible.”

The lawsuit

The Gaston doctors say in their lawsuit, filed in Gaston County Superior Court, that CaroMont has indicated it will enforce their non-compete clause if the doctors join Tryon Medical.

Under agreements with CaroMont, the seven doctors would be prohibited from “assisting a competing system” within 20 miles, according to the lawsuit provided by Tryon Medical.

But the Gaston doctors argue in the suit that Tryon Medical Partners is neither a hospital nor a healthcare system.

Tryon Medical says CaroMont has told the doctors it will enforce the clause because Tryon Medical runs Tryon Endoscopy Center, a small outpatient facility that performs colonoscopies and other gastrointestinal procedures.

The center is roughly 23 miles away from South Point Family Practice – and none of the doctors will be practicing there, so the non-compete clause shouldn’t apply, the doctors argue in the lawsuit.

CaroMont Health released a statement Thursday saying the hospital system was disappointed to learn of the lawsuit.

“Since being notified of the physicians’ intent to resign their positions just three weeks ago, CaroMont Health has fully cooperated in discussions with them and their attorney until this afternoon,” the hospital system said in a statement. “We have presented several fair and reasonable options that would allow the physicians to join Tryon Medical Partners, continue to practice in Gaston County and fulfill their contractual obligations. Unfortunately, all attempts to negotiate have been declined.”

’Open for business’

Tryon Medical Partners said the group of Gaston doctors reached out to Tryon Medical Partners through their attorneys several months ago.

“We’ve just been incredibly impressed by them,” Owen said. “They are clearly a premiere level group of physicians.”

The doctors submitted their 90-day resignation notice to CaroMont on Aug. 23, Tryon Medical said in a statement.

“We are eager to move forward with this legal process as rapidly as possible and to begin working within an independent private practice that can put the patient first vs. working within a large bureaucracy,” Wysong, one of the departing doctors, said in a statement.

Tryon Medical expects to hire 15 to 20 medical professionals to support the doctors in the new Gaston County office, the group said in a statement.

CaroMont has 17 family medicine locations, according to the hospital system’s website.

Owen said Tryon Medical has a site for the Gaston County expansion, but isn’t ready to announce it. It will be near South Point Family Practice’s current location.

Since Tryon Medical Partners opened in September 2018, more than 110,000 patients have registered with the group, Tryon Medical said in a statement. Owen said he believes many Gaston County patients will choose to follow their doctors.

“The greatest team in health care is the doctor-patient relationship,” he said. “We are building it and strengthening it and pushing it forward.”

Related stories from Charlotte Observer

Hannah Smoot covers business in Charlotte, focusing on aviation and health care. She previously covered money and power at The Rock Hill Herald in South Carolina. She is a lifelong North Carolinian and graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.