WILMINGTON — New Hanover Regional Medical Center will evaluate its informal practice of referring job candidates to local real estate brokers but maintains there’s no concern that those referrals caused any conflicts of interest. A county commissioner who was one of those brokers also said he felt the practice didn’t rise to the level of recusing himself from votes on the hospital.
According to New Hanover Regional Medical Center (NHRMC), the hospital utilizes local real estate brokers when it has out-of-town job candidates who are considering moving to the area.
“As a courtesy to candidates who travel to NHRMC for a job interview and want to see more of the area, we will occasionally help connect them with local brokers who know the area very well,” according to NHRMC spokesperson Carolyn Fisher.
NHRMC does not maintain a formal list and has not tracked referrals, Fisher said, adding that job candidates are not obligated to work with any of the realtors and that referred candidates don’t always get the job — meaning they don’t end up needing brokerage services.
Fisher did confirm that New Hanover County Board of Commissioners Chairman Jonathan Barfield was one of the brokers to whom the hospital refers candidates. Barfield also served on the NHRMC Board of Trustees from December 2010 to January 2015.
Asked if NHRMC had any concerns about a trustee or commissioner receiving potential business from an entity they oversaw, Fisher said, “The informal practice of connecting candidates to different local brokers to show them the area is something that has been done for years. While Mr. Barfield has been one of many brokers called to help with this, there’s no reason to believe that has any impact on how he acts in his role as Commissioner. Still, we feel this informal practice is something that should be evaluated and we will do that.”
Barfield said he had received “only six referrals in the last three years,” noting that referrals don’t necessarily translate into a sale and commission.
Barfield said that the possibility of losing this referral business made no impact on his decisions related to the hospital as a commissioner. He noted that the referrals were a small part of his business and that he had no concerns about not recusing himself from last month’s 3-2 vote in favor of exploring a potential sale of NHRMC, in which Barfield joined Commissioner Rob Zapple in voting against the motion.
New Hanover County spokesperson Jessica Loeper said neither the county’s attorney or clerk would be able to address specific issues of when it would be appropriate for a commissioner to recuse himself or herself.
According to Barfield, any incidental benefits from the informal broker referral practice — and the possibility of losing them under new hospital management or ownership — were outweighed by the importance of the hospital issue. On that note, Barfield referred to his statements during the vote itself; during the meeting, Barfield pointed to what he saw as overwhelming public opposition to selling the hospital at this time, an outcry he compared to the recent furor over plans to cut down live oaks in Ogden, or the movement against Titan Cement which began in 2008, the year he first took office as a county commissioner.
Additionally, Barfield said he had recused himself in past incidents where he had direct financial interests, including a June 2010 Wilmington Urban Metropolitan Planning Organization resolution supporting the NCDOT corridor for the Military Cutoff Extension. Barfield said he ultimately lost a commission due to the issue.
“Ultimately, if I have to ask myself if it’s an issue, I already know. In this case, I had no concern — two referrals a year, that’s not the kind of thing that could impact my decision to listen to the community,” Barfield said.
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