NEW HANOVER COUNTY — A poll conducted on behalf of the New Hanover County Democratic Party showed four in five residents oppose the potential sale of the New Hanover County Regional Medical Center to a for-profit buyer. Residents were more divided over whether to sell to a non-profit, with just over half of those polled saying they opposed that scenario.
The poll was conducted over two days on November 7 and 8 by Raleigh-based Public Policy Polling and surveyed 600 residents, presenting 16 questions about political affiliation, demographics, and positions on both the potential hospital sale and county funding for WAVE, which was recently cut.
The poll results — which you can find here — were released as it becomes increasingly clear that the sale of the hospital will be a campaign issue in 2020 for county commissioners. County Manager Chris Coudriet has said the process will take over a year and current commissioners Woody White and Patricia Kusek have both announced they will not run, meaning there will be two open seats (Chairman Jonathan Barfield has indicated he will run for re-election).
Kusek recently told radio host Derrick Anderson on “Let’s Talk” on 104.9 FM that she believed the process would not be finished before the election, and that it would thus be a major campaign issue; Kusek also said she was personally against a sale to a for-profit company.
Kusek, White, and Vice-Chairwoman Julia Olson-Boseman all recently voted to explore the potential sale of NHRMC; none have publicly said they would vote for a sale, but that has not curbed public outcry and concerns over transparency. White previously referred to such outcry as ‘mobocracy,’ and said of the survey’s results, “the fact that an issue may not be popular in a poll does not mean that the majority is correct in assessing what should be the right course of action. Public opinion is an important consideration but should never be the only thing that leaders consider in making decisions.“
Chairman Barfield and Commissioner Zapple both voted against the move to explore a sale, with Zapple becoming an outspoken critic of both the idea of a sale and the perceived lack of transparency around the process.
Editor’s note: The survey did not note its margin of error, but based on a county population of around 230,000 a survey of 600 creates a margin of error of around 4% with a 95% degree of confidence, generally considered to be the industry standard.
According to the survey, 87% of the respondents said they were aware of the sale process.
Asked if they supported a sale of NHRMC to a for-profit company, 82% said ‘no,’ 5% said ‘yes,’ and 13% said they were unsure.
Results were more evenly distributed when it came to the possibility of selling NHRMC to a non-profit, with a slight majority still opposing it. For that scenario, 52% opposed a sale, 25% supported it, and 23% remained uncertain.
Residents also weighed in on how they expected a sale to affect them. A majority expected increased costs (74%) and decreased quality of care (64%), while a minority expected decreased costs (10%) and increased care (17%). About 12-15% expected things to remain the same and about 5% were unsure what the impact would be.
The potential sale clearly had political resonance — 65% said they would vote against officials who supported it, while only 18% said they wouldn’t, and 17% were unsure.
The poll also showed that two-thirds of residents opposed the recent decision by commissioners to cut funding to WAVE; 66% of residents opposed the move, while 20% supported it and the remainder were unsure.
Survey responses were split on support for President Donald Trump: 44% approved, 52% disapproved, and 4% were unsure. Residents were evenly split between Democrat (37%) and Republican (38%) with 25% unaffiliated or other (unaffiliated voters make up the largest group in New Hanover County). Residents reported voting nearly evenly for Trump (46%) and Hillary Clinton (44%), with 10% casting votes for other candidates or not voting.
Residents were 50% women, 44% men, and 1% ‘gender non-binary,’ with 5% declining to answer. Racially, survey takers were 82% white, 14% black, and 4% other. All survey respondents were over 18, with 27% under 45 years old, 39% between 45 and 65, and 35% over 65.
A small portion of the residents polled (2%) actually worked for NHRMC or private medical practice (8%). The vast majority (90%) did not work in the medical field.
In terms of education and income, residents came from a variety of backgrounds.
Send comments and tips to Benjamin Schachtman at firstname.lastname@example.org, @pcdben on Twitter, and (910) 538-2001