PENDER COUNTY — After a year-and-a half of reconsidering the health provider that will operate Pender Medical Center, the county commissioners have decided to unload the county-owned hospital altogether.
A special meeting was called Friday and in a unanimous vote, the Pender County Board of Commissioners entered an agreement that will have Novant taking over ownership of Pender Medical Center. The hospital giant has agreed to funnel in $50 million within the next 10 years on more services and expansions to reach people especially in rural areas of the county.
In a press release Friday, Chair Jackie Newton wrote: “Novant Health’s commitment puts Pender Medical Center on a path to becoming a true community general hospital within 5 years, something we do not have today and something we desperately need in Pender County.”
The hospital (née Pender Memorial) has been open since 1951, owned by Pender County on 3.7-acres at 507 E. Fremont St. in Burgaw. Its 86 beds serve 21,000 patients annually (including Novant Health Imaging in Rocky Point).
New Hanover Regional Medical Center has had a lease agreement with the county for 23 years to oversee the hospital’s operations. When Novant Health purchased NHRMC in early 2021, overseeing Pender Medical Center came with the transition.
According to a presentation Novant NHRMC president Shelbourn Stevens and Pender hospital president Ruth Glaser gave to commissioners in November, NHRMC helped “stabilize” Pender’s rural facility. It also has infused more than $60 million into Pender health operations and tripled employees’ salaries.
Novant’s contract was set to expire July 17, 2023, and last summer Pender leaders announced they would begin exploring options from other healthcare providers rather than automatically renew the contract. The board agreed to hire Ascendient to consult on the search but was clear Novant wasn’t being excluded from the pool.
One of the reasons they looked elsewhere, according to Newton at the time, was county leaders wanted a seat at the table on decision-making.
“Novant doesn’t have the opportunity for Pender County or commissioners to have representation and a voice on the board to direct how they operate,” she said then. “That’s concerning.”
In September, Pender County Manager David Andrews asked for the asset purchase agreement between New Hanover County and Novant, per its sell of NHRMC to the Winston-Salem-based not-for-profit integrated system. It consists of 15 medical centers and more than 1,900 physicians in over 800 locations.
Andrews wrote to NHC manager Chris Coudriet, according to internal emails: “Pender County is currently in discussions with Novant Health regarding the county-owned hospital, its certificate of need and the possibility of new facilities being located in Pender County by Novant. Would you send me an electronic copy of contracts or agreements … This information will be helpful in discussions between Pender County and Novant.”
The proposal Pender commissioners agreed upon, sent to media by Pender staff attorney Patrick Buffkin, indicates Novant will spend money on improving the building, adding permanent medical equipment, and recruiting new health care professionals to expand services.
Other goals of Novant include:
- Maintaining Pender Medical Center’s status as a critical access hospital
- Improving access to primary and specialty care
- Making equipment investments in patient acute care and outpatient services
- Maintaining and improving acute and ambulatory facilities
- Supporting faculty salaries for rural track of Black River Health Services’ Family Medicine residency program
- Developing a stronger workforce, including education and training
- Providing information technology, data analytics and digital health
“The Board of Commissioners is united around the goal of securing the best possible future for our hospital and all our citizens. We have a framework of a deal with Novant Health that achieves that goal,” Newton continued in the release.
The details on negotiations and price of the hospital itself were not divulged; the press release stated confidentiality under state law. All legal documents are anticipated to be finalized by September with closing happening within six months.
“As we work toward closing, we know that our citizens will have questions about what will happen and when,” Newton added. “We are committed to answering those questions as we have more information.”
Port City Daily put in a public records request to Pender County Aug. 8, 2022 asking for all documents and internal emails between commissioners and Novant Health, regarding the decision to look into other providers. Despite numerous emails, phone calls and reminders to the county — 10 months later — the request has not been fulfilled.
Tips or comments? Email email@example.com.