Thursday, June 20, 2024

Power 100 2020 Q&A: Wesley Burks

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Courtesy of Wesley Burks

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65 | CEO, UNC Health Care
Chapel Hill

Burks’ first year leading the 33,000-employee system was marred by a The New York Times investigation citing turmoil at the system’s children’s hospital after unusual death rates were reported in 2016-17. An advisory board said UNC had responded effectively to the problem. Burks’ clinical specialty is pediatric allergy and immunology. He came to Chapel Hill in 2011 after stints at Duke University Medical Center and Arkansas Children’s Hospital. The University of Central Arkansas graduate earned his M.D. at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

What were UNC Health Care’s key achievements in 2019?
My vision for UNC Health Care is focused on creating a more unified, integrated system that better cares for the people of our state and fully utilizes the talents of the 33,000 North Carolinians who work with us. This year, we have made key progress in that effort. We also celebrated multiple groundbreakings and openings. Construction is well underway at our surgical tower in Chapel Hill, a hospital in Holly Springs, and a cancer center at UNC Rex.
We are an academic health system, so it also is important to celebrate that we surpassed $500 million in research grants and contracts this year. The impact our research is making across the state, nation and world is what we are so proud of.
Can the UNC Health Care model be economically viable over the long term?
We are an academic health system. We don’t run from that, we run toward it. Our clinical, research and education missions are all complementary. UNC Health Care’s mission is to improve the health and well-being of the people of North Carolina. Our faculty’s research helps advance our knowledge of health and improves the care we provide today and years into the future. In addition, we are training the next generation of physicians, scientists and allied health professionals.
Recently, Becker’s Hospital Review listed UNC Health Care as one of nine health systems nationwide with strong financial positions, based on reports by credit rating agencies.
Are you seeing positive results from the “value-based health care” models?
First, I like to reframe the conversation away from value. I like to think of it as “healthy based care.” Focusing on value sounds like we are assigning a financial cost to patients, when really this is about keeping them healthy.
As a physician, it is the right way to take care of patients and families, but it does represent a change in the way we practice. Now, we work much more closely in teams with nutritionists, case managers, social workers, behavioral-health specialists and others. Sometimes, the physician might be the least important person involved!
We are seeing great results through UNC Health Alliance, our clinically integrated network. In the last year, our population health services team has made more than 25,000 calls to patients, established 450 patients with primary-care physicians and scheduled about 3,000 annual preventative visits.
What is the most interesting part of your job as CEO?
The most rewarding part has been traveling across the state, visiting each of our UNC Health Care hospitals. In January, on my second day as CEO, I visited Onslow Memorial Hospital in Jacksonville. The community was still feeling the effects of Hurricane Florence, which had swept through months before, causing major damage. On that tour I met employees who had slept at the hospital during the storm to ensure that they were there to care for patients. When I visited, many employees were still living in temporary FEMA trailers but came to work each day dedicated to providing great care for patients.
What do you do for fun?
My wife, Jan, and I enjoy spending time with our three children and four grandchildren. We also are lifelong sports fans and enjoy watching and attending sporting events — especially golf.

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