'Save Our Hospital' Group Holds First Public Meeting

Jan 22, 2020

The ‘Save Our Hospital’ group held its first public meeting Tuesday evening at the Northeast Branch Library. A standing room only crowd listened to speakers explain why they are opposed to the possible sale or merger of the New Hanover Regional Medical Center. 

North Carolina State Treasurer Dale Folwell made the trip down from Raleigh to express his thoughts on a possible hospital sale.

“You have a community hospital the likes of which I don't think exist in many other places, not just in North Carolina, in the United States. It is high quality. It is low cost. It's accessible, and it's profitable. Preserve it for the next generation. Thank you.”

Folwell says he believes it would be a loss for the community to have the medical center’s control moved out of local hands.

“The other thing that fundamentally we have a problem with is that we, we very much would prefer a local control of the hospital. Not to give that up to someone else.”

‘Save Our Hospital’ was formed last year by Gene Merritt, as a response to the Partner Advisory Group. The PAG was created by the County last year, to explore a sale or merger for the hospital. Merritt says his group is making progress.

“I think we've made a difference. I think we've gotten their attention. I think they hopefully have made some adjustments in the way they're doing things that would make it a little more open and communicated process than it was before. We're still not particularly happy with that, but at least we think it's gotten better. So some progress has been made.”

It was last July that county commissioners voted to explore options for the future of NHRMC. Since then there have public forums - and a lot of finger pointing - about how the process is being handled.

Bill Graham is a member of Save Our Hospital, and spoke at the meeting. He’s the CEO of the Wilmington Renaissance Foundation, and says this should not be a political issue.

“I’m very much opposed to the sale. And we're just a volunteer group who came together. We have doctors, we have lawyers, we have nurses with business people. We've had some help, from the political side. But basically it's a non political process. I'm not even a registered Republican or Democrat. I'm an independent and I spend my life in causes that are by nonpartisan.”

Duke University professor Barack Richman attended this week’s meeting via Skype. He discussed the consequences he has seen in other mergers and consolidations of healthcare systems.

“After consolidation, after hospital mergers, prices have gone up. There is no evidence of meaningful quality improvements. In fact, there's evidence that, quality has gone down. Um, and there's lots of evidence that families and individuals and companies and local businesses have really paid and suffered because of the lack of competition.”

The members of Save Our Hospital have nothing but praise and respect for those in the Partnership Advisory Group.

The next PAG meeting will take place at 5:30 p.m. tonight—Thursday—at the County Government Center. On the agenda is a discussion on remaining independent, and how to address some of the economic uncertainties NHRMC is facing.

Vince Winkel, WHQR News.

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