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So, did someone die waiting for care at NHRMC? Plus, short-term rental redux

Port City Politics wide

On this episode, we get a little deeper into the reporting on what happened at NHRMC during the worst parts of its staffing shortage. Plus, Southport considers its short-term rental regulations, and with good reason.

Earlier this summer, a flurry of reporting described the chaotic and potentially dangerous conditions at Novant Health's New Hanover Regional Medical Center facility which had allegedly led to the death of a patient who was waiting for care on June 6 and investigators visiting the hospital.

The reporting was based on anonymous sources inside NHRMC — in large part because staff have frequently expressed concerns over retaliation or termination if they spoke out, but also because anecdotal stories — or, rather, horror stories — about the conditions at NHRMC had been pouring into newsrooms around Wilmington, and the pressure on local journalists to somehow get those stories out was reaching a critical mass.

Novant downplayed the reports saying that no one had died while waiting for care, and no investigators had visited the hospital. That was, at best, disingenuous.

Two weeks later, inspectors from the state would visit, reporting concerns to a federal Department of Health and Human Services agency, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), that went on to threaten NHRMC's Medicare and Medicaid contracts if it didn't make serious corrections.

NHRMC would eventually escape this 'immediate jeopardy' status, but perhaps more troubling is a report, released by CMS, that showed that while Novant was technically correct, a 77-year-old female patient waited a significant period of time in the ER waiting room, was not reassessed properly during that wait, and did 'code' — generally meaning a patient goes into cardiac arrest — while waiting. The patient never recovered and died early the next morning after life-support measures were discontinued.

While NHRMC may have semantic accuracy on its side, the CMS report — released to WECT, which then shared it with the public — essentially supports the original reporting. Whether the patient would have lived had NHRMC not been in the midst of a critical staffing shortage is not an easy question to answer — and probably cannot be answered — but the CMS report certainly provides more clarity about how she died than Novant originally offered.

In comparably lighter news, on this episode we're also reflecting on the latest in short-term rental regulations. Thankfully, this issue isn't life and death but it still leads us to some important legal — and even philosophical — considerations.

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.