WILMINGTON — A group of around 60 people lined the sidewalk outside the historic courthouse in downtown Wilmington on Monday afternoon, an hour before New Hanover County Commissioners would make its historic vote on the $1.9-billion sale of the county-owned hospital system.
Most were wearing Novant Health purple or New Hanover Regional Medical Center (NHRMC) turquoise, representing the buyer and seller, respectively. Some supporters pointed to Dr. Philip Brown, the chief physician executive at NHRMC, calling him the de facto leader of the group.
“This particular partnership has the potential to bring levels of health to our region that have never existed before,” Brown said. “When they first started announcing that this [sale] was a possibility, it was nerve-racking for all of us , because we didn’t know what our future would be. As we explored it, and began to understand what the possibilities would be for the citizens, for the patients, it became so obvious that this would be the right thing to do.”
On the other side of Princess Street, a smaller group gathered around the steps of Thalian Hall to listen to leaders of the Save Our Hospital movement decry the expected vote to approve the sale. Speakers included N.C. Senator Harper Peterson, New Hanover County Commission candidate Leslie Cohen, and Commissioner Rob Zapple, who would soon provide the lone vote against the sale.
“We need to step back and look at what our options are, and do what’s right for the people of New Hanover County,” Cohen told the crowd of protestors. “And if this is the best deal — the actual sale — then let’s decide that. But we haven’t had an opportunity to really look at the options. And when I say ‘we,’ I don’t mean just the public: the county commission hasn’t looked at it either because they didn’t ask [the right] questions.”
After the meeting began, protestors vacated their spot at Thalian Hall as supporters clustered in groups across the street, gathered around cell phones or speakers to listen to commissioners’ final arguments. Four minutes before 5 p.m., Chairwoman Julia Olson-Boseman announced the vote had passed 4-1 as the group began celebrating.
Watch an audio slideshow of the scene on Princess Street, and inside the courthouse, as the vote unfolded.