Novant Health is set to become the new owner of New Hanover Regional Medical Center. At Monday night’s county commission meeting, four of the five board members voted to approve the sale of the county’s largest asset, and to create a private community foundation to manage the proceeds.
Whichever way they voted, all five commissioners noted the momentous nature of the vote – starting with the chairperson, Julia Olson-Boseman.
"By joining our hospital with Novant, we are securing healthcare for generations to come. We are promising a better quality of life, more access to care, greater innovation and technology, enhanced academic experiences, and less health disparities. We are guaranteeing safe, high-quality, cost-effective care for every person."
The community endowment, says Olson-Boseman, will change lives by allowing for investment in local services and organizations that serve the underserved.
Vice Chair Patricia Kusek admits the process fractured friendships. She says she’s been vilified, accused of being on the take and personally benefiting from the sale.
"I’m guilty. I’m guilty of wanting the best path forward for healthcare in our region today and in the future. And I’m guilty of insisting that we protect $1.2 billion for the transformation that it will provide for this community for generations to come. And yes, I’ll benefit financially from this transaction – just like every one of you – each and every person who lives here in this county now or who’s going to come here to live in the future – through borrowing less money, paying for programs as we need them…"
And, says Kusek, county residents will pay less in taxes and enjoy one of the top credit ratings in the country.
Commissioner Jonathan Barfield, who refused to show his hand until the vote, also supported the sale.
Commissioner Woody White said it was the first time a single vote of his would change so many lives at once.
But for that lone dissenting voice, Commissioner Rob Zapple, it was about the community foundation.
"If it were possible today for a motion to separate the approval of the purchase agreement from the other issues in this resolution – I would vote yes. I would support Novant’s purchase of the hospital."
It’s a good deal for the residents of New Hanover County, says Zapple.
"However, tied to the vote today is the structure of the community foundation that will be funded with $1.25 billion of taxpayer money. As the bylaws are currently written, I cannot accept putting control of that money in the hands of a private foundation."
And Zapple insists that the law is flexible and that the foundation could be both public and return a higher yield on its investments.
"Through legislation titled, ‘Expanded Local Authority,’ we can do what other counties in North Carolina – Forsyth, Pitt, and Durham Counties have already done: apply for and receive approval for a more flexible strategy in investing public money."
Barfield seconded Zapple’s motion to separate the vote on the purchase agreement from the foundation bylaws, but there was no other support.
JOB: Madam Vice Chair?
PK: Call the question.
JOB: We have a motion and a second. All in favor?
WW, JOB, PK, JB: Aye.
JOB: It passes, 4 – 1, and we will take a break to celebrate and to sign and – just to celebrate.
The North Carolina Attorney General’s Office now undertakes its own review of the transaction.