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NHRMC escapes 'immediate jeopardy,' but morale issues linger; the latest on Olson-Boseman

On this episode, Novant Health opens up about serious staffing issues at NHRMC, which led to multiple complaints, a state inspection, and a dire warning from the federal government. The hospital says it’s out of the woods — but the battle to save morale is likely far from over. Plus, the latest on New Hanover County Chairwoman Julia Olson-Boseman, now accused in court of draining over $100,000 from a family bank account.

First up: New Hanover Regional Medical Center (NHRMC). It’s no secret that the hospital has been dealing with serious issues — but while some outlets have tried to get at the problems, the hospital and its staff have remained fiercely tight-lipped, until now. This week, top hospital staff spoke with reporters about the problems.

It turns out, on June 29, state survey inspectors acting for the North Carolina Health and Human Services Division of Health Services Regulation came to NHRMC to investigate multiple complaints, largely dealing with staffing shortages and the resulting increase in waiting times for the ER, ambulance offloading, and other services. The state investigators also acted on behalf of the federal government, namely the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) — a low-profile agency in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that’s probably best known for derailing fraudulent biotech start-up Theranos in 2016.

CMS notified NHRMC that it was in ‘immediate jeopardy,’ which is a “situation in which the provider's noncompliance with one or more requirements of participation has caused or is likely to cause serious injury, harm, impairment, or death to a resident," according to CMS. In a July 20 letter, CMS told NHRMC if key failings weren’t addressed, its Medicare contracts would be terminated on August 12. [Note: You can read that letter, below.]

Novant officials say the hospital was already working on the issues, which revolved around severe staff shortages. At the peak of the issue, NHRMC had closed roughly 150 of its 800 beds and needed about 400 additional nurses. Officials say the hospital has already made great strides in staffing, closing that gap to around 100 nurses. And, according to Novant, NHRMC has received verbal confirmation that they’re in ‘immediate jeopardy’ – although it was a close call, just one day before the Medicare provider agreement was slated to be terminated.

Novant officials also addressed the elephant in the room, saying that NHRMC would have been in a worse — not better — position had it still been owned by the county, which would not have had the same financial resources Novant has brought to bear on the staffing problem.

Related: Regulators threatened to terminate NHRMC’s Medicare contract over deficiencies (WECT)

What remains is a multifaceted problem: a global pandemic, a constricted pipeline for new nurses that predates Covid-19, the ‘great resignation,’ and shifting economic conditions which are all damping morale. How Novant handles that moving forward, remains to be seen.

Also on this episode, the latest on New Hanover County Chair Julia Olson-Boseman. New legal filings specify the amount she allegedly drained from her joint account with her wife – roughly $118,000. We’ll get into why we’ve been looking at her personal life, including potential divorce proceedings, to get a better idea of her professional financial conduct.

Disclosure notice: Novant Health provides has provided underwriting support for WHQR.

Ben Schachtman is a journalist and editor with a focus on local government accountability. He began reporting for Port City Daily in the Wilmington area in 2016 and took over as managing editor there in 2018. He’s a graduate of Rutgers College and later received his MA from NYU and his PhD from SUNY-Stony Brook, both in English Literature. He loves spending time with his wife and playing rock'n'roll very loudly. You can reach him at BSchachtman@whqr.org and find him on Twitter @Ben_Schachtman.