Sunday, August 14, 2022

Here are the details on the consulting firm hired by NHRMC ahead of vote to explore sale

The majority of county commissioners support exploring a sale of NHRMC. What's the role of the PR and consulting firm hired by the hospital in anticipation of that move? (Port City Daily photo/Johanna Ferebee)
The majority of county commissioners support exploring a sale of NHRMC. What’s the role of the PR and consulting firm hired by the hospital in anticipation of that move? (Port City Daily photo/Johanna Ferebee)

Jarrard Inc. has been variously referred to as an adviser, consultant, or PR firm. Residents have asked what Jarrard’s role is, how public that involvement will be, as well as when the firm was hired and how much it’s costing.

WILMINGTON — As county commissioners prepare to vote on whether or not to explore the sale of New Hanover Regional Medical Center (NHRMC), there’s been a good bit of public discussion of the “PR” or “consulting” firm hired by the hospital.

Related: Local leaders divided on potential New Hanover Regional Medical Center sale

That firm is Jarrard Phillips Cate & Hancock, Inc. (or Jarrard Inc.), a Tennesse-based company that specializes in helping healthcare systems deal with a wide variety of changes.

“In the rapidly changing world of healthcare, you need an experienced partner with little learning curve.  Having guided more than 400 healthcare organizations through change, challenge and significant opportunity, we jump in immediately to address any issue, strategy or goal as an extension of your team. We are your strategic thought partner and tactical resource to achieve partnership and growth goals faster, to accelerate change, to increase thought leadership recognition, and to protect your reputation in times of crisis,” according to the company’s website.

Contract confusion

After New Hanover County announced it would consider selling NHRMC, County Manager Chris Coudriet told a press conference on July 23, “To support our work in this process, the county and the hospital would partner with a national expert health care adviser that helps hospitals and health systems across the country determine how best to evolve for the future. If the board approves the resolution, the adviser would assist us in developing a [request for proposals] and potential partners would have a predetermined time to submit proposals.”

Coudriet was referring to Navigant, a company that previously helped NHRMC negotiate its management contract with Carolinas HealthCare (now Atrium). But, because NHRMC had already engaged Jarrard Inc. — this led to some confusion. Adding to the confusion were rumors that the hospital or the county had hired a PR firm to help ‘sell’ the sale.

In early August, Commissioner Rob Zapple wrote Zapple in a Star News editorial that “[t]he hospital already has reached out to other healthcare systems to gauge their interest in a purchase and it has hired a PR firm to convince the public that selling is the right thing.”

According to the NHRMC, no one from the hospital reached out to any other health systems. Navigant did some preliminary research of the market, including evaluating potential interest according to NHRMC.

In a Facebook post, Commissioner Julia Olson-Boseman addressed Zapple’s claims, among others.

“NHRMC did engage their third-party adviser to conduct preliminary, high-level research of the market. This is a common business practice and would have been negligent of them not to understand the market and know if this was even a viable option. Also, NHRMC has used a PR firm to help manage communications so they are open and clear about why they are asking us to explore new models of ownership. I think it’s proactive and prudent that they hired someone to assist,” Olson-Boseman wrote.

It seems both Zapple and Olson-Boseman were talking about both Jarrard and Navigant.

Jarrard’s roles in a potential sale

According to Kevin Phillips, Jarrard co-founder and chief operating officer, “Our work includes assisting NHRMC with the increased activity resulting from the County Commission’s process that may impact the future of the health system.”

Phillips directed further questions to NHRMC spokesman Julian March, who noted that the hospital had engaged in two contracts with Jarrard.

“The first was specifically focused on our Legal Affairs department, and the second reflects a broader focus, to include communications support. While the second one has a recent date, you’ll notice it reflects work done beginning in June. We felt it was important to separate the legal and communications agreements going forward, but share both with you to not leave any open questions regarding our initial engagement,” March wrote in an email.

From Jarrard's initial contract with NHRMC. (Port City Daily photo / NHRMC)
From Jarrard’s initial contract with NHRMC. (Port City Daily photo / NHRMC)

The first contract, dated May 31, was for Jarrard to “render strategic communications and engagement consulting services solely for the purpose of assisting legal counsel in rendering privileged and confidential legal advice to New Hanover Regional Medical Center (‘NHRMC’) – including formulating legal strategy – in connection with certain highly confidential matters involving legal due diligence, potential drafting and negotiation of legal documents, and related communication matters that implicate state and federal rules and regulations and present potentially material liability risks to NHRMC and its affiliated owner of NHRMC facilities, New Hanover County, North Carolina.”

This “due diligence” does not refer to the research Olson-Boseman referred to — that was performed by Navigant. The firm’s role did expand beyond the original agreement though, when it ‘shifted’ to include messaging to NHRMC employees and the general public. The shift happened at some point in June, according to NHRMC, although the second contract is dated August 19.

From the second contract with Jarrard, adding communications services. (Port City Daily photo / NHRMC)
From the second contract with Jarrard, adding communications services. (Port City Daily photo / NHRMC)

“As an engagement between the Client and Jarrard Inc has shifted, herein is updated consulting agreement reflecting Jarrard Inc’s services, starting in June, augmenting Client’s team working on timely, comprehensive and informative communications to Client’s employees, medical staff and community served by Client. Client retains Jarrard Inc to render strategic communication and engagement consulting services and to serve Client in any other capacity as parties may later mutually agree. Jarrard Inc shall keep Client fully advised of all its efforts on behalf of Client,” according to the second contract.

Public vs. Private

Residents have also asked how much of Jarrard’s role in the potential sale of NHRMC will be public. While the county and NHRMC have promised the process will be as transparent as possible, state laws also protect certain aspects of the process.

As a public hospital, NHRMC is covered by public records law — but it’s also covered under the state’s “competitive health care information” law (N.C.G.S. §131E-97.3). The latter was designed to allow public hospitals to remain competitive during negotiations. A 1997 law, which played a large part in NHRMC’s debate over whether to sell at the time, explicitly gave county commissioners access to this private information but prohibited them from further disclosing it.

For this reason, a request for emails to and from NHRMC’s Board of Trustee from April 1 to late July, fell only partially under public records laws. The emails released by NHRMC included no conversations with Jarrard – or any other healthcare consulting firms, hospital management groups, or healthcare providers.

Many aspects of NHRMC’s relationship with Jarrard is also considered to fall outside public records law, including some communication and the cost of Jarrard’s services.

Redactions protecting the privacy of Jarrard's fees. (Port City Daily photo / NHRMC)
Redactions protecting the privacy of Jarrard’s fees. (Port City Daily photo / NHRMC)

March noted that NHRMC had waived its privacy privilege in order to release the Jarrard contract. March also noted that Jarrard’s rates are “confidential proprietary information.” However, March said, “we will share that we have been invoiced $38,674.56 in expenses since May 31.”

A request for all emails from April 1 to the end of July relating to the potential sale of NHRMC to or from the county’s executive leadership, the county manager’s office, and county commissioners, turned up no conversations with other health care systems (including Atrium, formerly Carolinas Healthcare, which currently has a management contract with NHRMC). It also turned up no conversations with Jarrard until the time of the potential sale announcement was made.

Send comments and tips to Benjamin Schachtman at ben@localvoicemedia.com, @pcdben on Twitter, and (910) 538-2001

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