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00000177-efb4-dee4-afff-efbec58a0000Gathered below is WHQR's ongoing reporting and CoastLine coverage regarding NHRMC.

Save Our Hospital Group Not Pleased With Six NHRMC Proposals For Future

Vince Winkel
Save Our Hospital President Gene Merritt (center) speaks at a press event last November regarding NHRMC.

Six proposals were made public last week regarding the future of New Hanover Regional Medical Center. A group opposed to selling the facility, Save Our Hospital, did not like what it saw.  WHQR’s Vince Winkel spoke with the organization’s President, Gene Merritt.

Vince Winkel: Last week, New Hanover County and the Partnership Advisory Group released the six proposals that have come in. What was your take on what you saw?

Gene Merritt: I saw five proposals to purchase the hospital and proposal to partner. That was not what we really thought was going to happen. We thought there would be more partnership concepts, but everything seemed to be slanted towards selling.

VW: And selling is something that you all are opposed to?

GM: We're fundamentally opposed to selling. We believe that there is a structure that will work, that maintains local ownership and control and does not presuppose that there couldn't be some form of strategic partnership involved in the situation.

VW: Why would that be better than a sale, do you think?

GM: Well, do you want someone from Dallas, Texas running your hospital? With public ownership at least there's some form of accountability to the public. When it's privately owned or a private nonprofit, there is no accountability to the public anymore.

VW: Do you think they should go back and seek out more proposals or slow the process down?

GM: Well, we ask them to slow the process down for six months because of the pandemic and they ignored that course. But we do believe that instead of six proposals, there should be seven proposals and the seventh proposal would be maintain the situation as it is in reorganize and possibly bring on a partner that would be strategic as opposed to necessarily completely financial.


VW: Is it your opinion that the PAG is still open to just keeping it as it is now and not pursuing any of the six?

GM: They say that, but their actions belie that. In other words, it seems to me that the railroad train is coming down the track and the railroad has got the name ‘sell’ on the front of it. And it's hard to avoid that. The people from the PAG keep saying they're going to give the consideration into a do nothing scenario. But I don't see it coming that way. At least at this time. I would like to believe that that would happen. But right now it's difficult for me to see that. That's the way it’s headed.

VW: They have been quite transparent though.

GM:  Well, transparent - quite more transparent than they were originally. This whole situation was conceived in darkness and behind the scenes, The PAG is the strategy of the County and the hospital to create the aura of inclusiveness and openness. And I do believe that they have provided that role to us. So I feel like the PAG has an important role in this and an important part of the decision making process.

VW: If you were speaking to the PAG and the County Commissioners right now, what would you say?

GM: Well, I would say that just because someone tells you something doesn't necessarily make it true. And if you've got people who are promoting a sale, they are not necessarily being independent in their advice. And I'm just simply saying that you have to consider where the information comes from and under what circumstances it comes from to evaluate the validity of that information.

VW: Do you think the vote will go through as planned sometime before the election this year in terms of County Commissioners making a final decision based on a recommendation from the PAG?

GM: It is my opinion that that is what they want to do, that is their strategy to get a vote by the County Commissioners this year. I've never thought any different from that. On the other hand, whatever decision they make must be reviewed by the North Carolina Attorney General and that could tie up the process for some time. So it's hard to say what's going to happen.

VW: Gene Merritt is president of Save Our Hospital. Thank you.

GM: Thank you very much for having me.