On Monday, New Hanover County Commissioners voted to clear a path to explore the sale of the New Hanover Regional Medical Center. It doesn’t guarantee the not-for-profit healthcare system will be sold, but it opens the door to such a possibility. WHQR looks at how we got here.
“Today we are announcing the county and the hospital together are bringing forward at the September 3rd meeting of the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners, a resolution of intent to sell New Hanover Regional Medical Center. So what this means is the County would decide whether to explore new ownership opportunities for the hospital through a request for proposals.”
That’s County Manager Chris Coudriet, who along with Medical Center President and CEO John Gizdic told a small group of reporters about the plan at a July 23rd meeting.
“We have defied the odds for many years to remain an independent stand alone county-owned hospital. As our industry has changed and evolved, a greater depth of resources from a larger health system partner could help us solve some of the challenges we face as an organization and as a community much quicker than we could do alone and certainly without needing a taxpayer subsidy.”
After the announcement came a series of meetings, to explain the move to the public. These forums drew standing room only crowds…and lots of questions.
“Just based on my experience as a healthcare attorney as well as the practicing side. As a nurse practitioner, my biggest concern would be are we going from a nonprofit system to a for-profit system where the bottom line is money, and if you do go to a for-profit system, they could be located in Texas or Alaska? What do they know about this community? We’re the only game in town right now…”
“I have a question. If it is true that one of the differences between public and a private hospital is that, the private hospital can turn away patients whereas a public hospital cannot do this, then what hospital near here is going to absorb those patients that get turned away? And I don't mean on an emergency basis...”
“And I've seen what happens when a good product gets sold, especially if it's sold to a corporation that’s not a not-for-profit, and in many cases the quality deteriorates. The money at the end of the day is what drives it...”
During the July and August public meetings, Coudriet and Gizdic reminded people that the resolution in front of the commissioners does not mean a sale is imminent. But rather the intent to sell vote allows the county to then solicit offers. They said repeatedly if a good offer isn’t on the table, the medical center stays as it is – county-owned.
Gizdic explained NHRMC is currently in a position of strength, that exploring a sale in today’s market is in the best interest of everyone involved.
At around 7,000 employees, the medical center is the region’s largest employer. Last year, it saw more than 800,000 patients between inpatient admissions and emergency department and physician group visits. It is profitable. If sold, it is expected to bring in at least $1.2 billion. Those funds would go into the County’s bank account.
Three of the County’s five commissioners say they support the resolution
Commissioner Woody White assures County residents that any sale would be thought through carefully.
“I think things are progressing the way we expected, that the community is engaged and interested in this. It's a very big decision for everyone, and it poses a lot of opportunities for the future of our health care, dependent upon what responses we see over the coming months. The worst thing we can do is rush any decision at all. We're not going to do that.”
If the resolution is approved, the public will have more chances to provide input through future public hearings. Also, any advisory board meetings will be subject to open meeting laws. That provides the public with a right of access to meetings of government bodies at the state and local level in North Carolina.