WILMINGTON — Leaders from New Hanover Regional Medical Center (NHRMC) and New Hanover County will host two forums this week to discuss the potential sale of the county-owned hospital.
In late July, NHRMC President and CEO John Gizdic and County Manager Chris Coudriet held a joint press conference to announce the county would consider ‘exploring options’ for the sale of the hospital, as well as entering into new management partnerships, or keeping the hospital under county ownership. New Hanover County Commissioners announced they would vote on whether or not to move forward with such an exploration by issuing a public Request For Proposals (RFP) at their September 3 meeting.
Gizdic and Coudriet cited “instability” and “uncertainty” in the health care industry as the impetus for considering a sale, noting that NHRMC is in a “healthy financial position” at present, which would allow the county to explore a sale from “a position of strength.” Coudriet has noted that the $1 billion could be reinvested in the county in any number of ways.
Details on why the county would consider selling the hospital – which officials say is valued at upwards of $1 billion – were sparse, although during the press conference both Gizdic and Coudriet acknowledged that they believed it would not be possible to maintain NHRMC’s outreach programs and charitable care (i.e. providing healthcare at a sliding scale, including or free, for those who cannot afford it).
NHRMC currently provides at least $200 million a year in charitable care. Coudriet said it was reasonable to expect that continuing such a service at that level would inevitably require a subsidy from the county in the foreseeable future — currently, NHRMC makes a point of noting it does not receive any county funds.
County commissioners split, or undecided
County Commissioner Julia Olson-Boseman has cited this fact in her support of a sale, saying she is not comfortable asking taxpayers to bear this burden in the future, adding that she didn’t understand objections to exploring options for NHRMC, saying “I don’t know how people can say no to it when they don’t know what it is yet.”
In a Facebook post, Olson-Boseman also pushed back against criticisms of exploring a sale, including accusations that the process was rushed or being conducted without sufficient transparency.
Commissioners Woody White and Patricia Kusek have also said they favor exploring a sale. The three commissioners have also said that do not support a request, made by NHRMC’s medical staff — comprised of hundreds of doctors with admitting privileges – to delay the September 3 vote by at least 90 days.
Chairman Jonathan Barfield has not responded to requests for comment, but has remained circumspect in other interviews noting he would weigh community input before making a decision.
Meanwhile, Commissioner Rob Zapple supported a delay and has been an outspoken critic of the plan to sell the hospital, as well as the perceived “rush” to vote on the issue; he criticized the hiring of a PR firm by NHRMC to help promote exploring the sale, adding concerns about the impact a sale would have on the hospital’s quality of care and ability to reinvest in the community, among other issues he enumerated in a recent editorial.
Zapple’s concerns were echoed by State Representative and Ted Davis, who also argued passionately against a partial sale of NHRMC in 2011 when he was a county commissioner, calling it a “tremendous asset to the community” and saying he wanted to “keep it local.” Davis reiterated those sentiments, including his concern that the current board is “rushing” the sale, to Tyler Cralle on WAAV on Friday (you can listen to the interview below, Davis discusses NHRMC at the 17-minute mark).
It’s important to note that state statutes strictly govern the sale of public hospitals and, without state authorization, the county cannot hold a voter referendums on the issue; ultimately, the choice will be up to the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners.
Two forums will be held in Wilmington next month:
- Monday, August 19, 6 – 7:30 p.m. at the Northeast Regional Library, 1241 Military Cutoff Road
- Tuesday, August 20, 8:30 – 10:00 a.m. at the Senior Resource Center, 2222 South College Road
The community can stay informed throughout the process and find additional information at www.NHRMCfuture.org, a website created by New Hanover County and NHRMC.