The $1.25 billion community endowment: A conversation with Port City Daily's Johanna Still
The sale of New Hanover Regional Medical Center was a long, fraught process. It’s completion means a whole new set of questions, including how $1.25 billion in sale proceeds will be managed under the recently created New Hanover Community Endowment. WHQR’s Managing Editor Ben Schachtman sat down with Port City Daily’s Johanna Still to discuss an ongoing series on the endowment.
You can find part one of PCD's series here -- Deep Dive: Did rural counties get left out of $1.25 billion New Hanover endowment deal?
Benjamin Schachtman: I'm joined now by Johanna Still, assistant editor from Port City Daily. Jo, how are you?
Johanna Still: Hey, good. How are you?
BS: I'm good. So let's get into this -- Port City Daily is working on a multi-part series on the New Hanover County endowment. This is the $1.25 billion foundation that came from the sale and it's going to be managing charitable grants in our region. So walk us through this, what was part one all about?
JS: So part one, we dove into the concept of whether rural counties and residents had been left out of the sale in some way. What we learned is that the endowment has been tasked from New Hanover County to spend that money inside New Hanover County lines, essentially. Now, that presents an interesting question for rural communities, because half of the hospital's patient base comes from outside of New Hanover County and roughly half the revenue does as well.
BS: Right. The New Hanover Regional Medical Center had always made a point of saying that they didn't get any funding from the county -- all of the revenue came from patients. If more than 50% of those patients are coming from out of the county, shouldn't that be represented? And one one of the elected officials who have spoken out about this is Frank Williams, former chairman and current Commissioner in Brunswick County.
JS: Yes, so Frank Williams is the one who said that it would be wrong for the spending to occur only within county lines. And so there's other high ranking officials in rural counties that are asking the same questions. And so on Thursday, the AG [Attorney General Josh Stein] actually gave us somewhat of an answer to the question, his interpretation of the bylaws that set up the foundation is that the county has not actually limited itself to inside county line spending for that endowment. Now, that's counter to New Hanover County's intent and interpretation. But it does seem as though spending is possible outside of county lines at this point.
BS: Gotcha. That's only part one. So part two is going to take a look at sort of high profile documents the public has never seen -- sometimes referred to as the strategic plan -- and the role they played in both a hospital sale and the evaluation of a sale.
JS: Right. So these are extremely sought after documents. And what's interesting about them is that some high ranking officials have seen them while some haven't. And the public certainly will, as far as we can tell, so far, we'll never be able to see these documents. But for those who have seen the plans, they feel extremely assured of what's going to happen, what the hospital has planned for the region, the AG’s office declined our request to obtain a copy of the strategic plan. Of course, the hospital has declined that request as well. And the hospital initially in writing declined the request that he put forth to obtain a physical copy of the strategic plan. And instead, the AG reviewed it electronically without downloading it. So we kind of just dive into this issue of public records and whether or not the public is ever going to get access to this highly sought after document.
BS: It's an interesting issue, especially given public records law in the 21st century. And apparently, you know, and just to look at how sort of impactful this document is when you get to see it.
JS: Exactly, but the answer is we won't be seeing it.
BS: Yeah, so that's part one and part two. And part two, I believe you worked on with your colleagues Scott Nunn?
BS: Yeah. So then, coming down the pipeline in coming weeks there’s more; I don't want to go too in detail, but I know you've got one looking at what's called conversion foundations in general, sort of this idea of when a hospital gets sold it creates these community endowment type things. So, at least three and possibly more in this deep dive series on the New Hanover Community Endowment. I look forward to it and we encourage our listeners to follow Port City Daily for that reporting. Johanna Still, thank you so much for coming by.
JS: Thank you.