Monday, August 15, 2022

City Council not sold on hospital sale, passes resolution to ask county to slow down

City Council will vote on an amendment that would allow dependents of retirees a chance to get on a city health insurance plan without previous coverage requirements (Port City Daily photo/FILE)
City Council will vote on an amendment that would allow dependents of retirees a chance to get on a city health insurance plan without previous coverage requirements. (Port City Daily photo/FILE)

WILMINGTON — The possible sale of the New Hanover Regional Medical Center to a private entity is in motion and has been since July. But resistance from the community as a whole has been strong, including pushback from Wilmington City Council.

On Tuesday, the City Council passed a resolution asking New Hanover County Commissioners to slow talks of the possible sale in order to gather input from the public and not taking any formal vote for at least 12 months.

A resolution that County Manager Chris Coudriet said last week was acknowledged, but he had not received any orders telling him to slow down the process.

Of the six City Council members, only Charlie Rivenbark voted against the city’s resolution while Councilman Kevin O’Grady was one of the most outspoken critics of the county’s actions.

An attempt to rebuild trust

During the meeting, Jason Thompson, former City Councilman and NHRMC Board of Trustees member, as well as incoming chairman for the board, addressed some of the city’s as well as the public’s concerns regarding the direction the hospital is moving.

“I am here as a member of the Board of Trustees for the hospital to speak to you council members … hopefully, with some factual information, we can build some trust that seems to have been broken somewhat,” Thompson said.

There are several challenges the hospital, facing according to Thompson. One of the most significant issues being the possible loss of millions every year for NHRMC.

Related: Timeline, transparency, public input — More information on potential NHRMC sale, some questions remain

“We have seen some challenges … North Carolina Medicaid’s new fixed cost model can cut reimbursements, we could do everything the same but it could be $13 to $16 million every year in lost income for NHRMC,” he said.

The seemingly rushed timeline the county has put forward is most likely not accurate. According to Thompson, these are just bare minimum timeframes, but in reality, the exploration of the sale of NHRMC will take time.

“What we’re looking at, ladies and gentlemen of the council, is a year process at best, and probably more like a year-and-a-half,” he said.

Earlier this week the county released a list of members of a new advisory group to guide the exploration of the sale process. When it comes to representation for the City of Wilmington, Thompson said that there are two members on the board who are former Wilmington Council Members, himself and former Mayor Spence Broadhurst.

During discussion of the issue, Mayor Bill Saffo did acknowledge the process as described by Thompson did seem slower and more deliberative, with more time for public input.

Resistance from council

Despite his efforts, the City Council still voted to pass its resolution asking the county to slow down on the sale.

Councilman Kevin O’Grady was one outspoken critic of the county’s process. While he was not explicitly asking the county not to sell the hospital, the process in which things were happening was of concern.

For O’Grady, the county leaders have already made up their mind to sell the hospital. Since the county signed its own resolution to move forward with the exploration of the sale and has requested the advisory group to draft a request for proposals (RFP).

“You’re giving us the right answers, but that’s not what this (the county’s resolution) says to do. This says to go out and get people to make offers to purchase this hospital. You don’t need this to do what you all are doing, you could have just been commissioned to go out and explore all options … Instead, they did this, and this says you’re selling the hospital,” O’Grady said.

“Our resolution is asking them to go back and do it the way I think they should have done it. You should have started with the PAG (Partnership Advisory Group) — if you read this — they are going to sell,” he said.


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