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Days away from County Commission vote, officials field more questions on possible hospital sale

Updated: Aug. 28, 2019 at 11:37 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Once again, County Manager Chris Coudriet and New Hanover Regional Medical Center President and CEO John Gizdic answered questions from concerned citizens over the future of the hospital system.

On the eve of the New Hanover County Commission’s agenda briefing, where the body will be able to discuss a resolution of intent to sell, the New Hanover County Democratic Party held a public forum to give the community one more chance to get clarification on what could happen Sept. 3.

Coudriet and Gizdic began the evening by reiterating the points they’ve laid out over the last five weeks, primarily that even if the county moves forward with the intent to sell resolution Tuesday, “it’s just the beginning.”

Leading the way on the discussion, Dr. Kyle Horton was given the chance to ask questions first.

Horton, an internal medicine physician, joined the political arena during the 2018 midterms when she challenged Congressman David Rouzer for the 7th district.

She said having done the research into other markets, and experienced first-hand how acquisitions and changes in hospital system ownership can affect hospital staff and consumers, she has major concerns with the possible sale.

“As a physician who’s lived through sort of the monumental changes that come about, whether it’s through a merger or through a consolidation or whether they privatize and all out sell, I am deeply concerned with what they are telling us here, because they are not laying out a case for why it is so urgent that we proceed with a possibility of sale at this particular juncture.”

Horton said in her experience, when hospital systems are consolidated, the result is an increase in the price of care — an increase that results in either higher premiums for insurance customers, or reductions in services.

“There is an industry playbook where these big mega conglomerates will sell us a bill of goods, but after they sign on the dotted line and we give over control that change is permanent, and we lose our recourse to enforce contracts,” she said.

In previous explanations of the Request for Proposal process, Coudriet and Gizdic have said that certain terms could be negotiated and outlined in a final contract.

However, Horton said she doesn’t think the county has the ability to guarantee the future for physicians and patients.

“They are making a lot of claims and assertions, and putting a lot of onus on the medical community and the providers that we will have sort of recourse in the process to develop a healthcare center and a plan for these changes that really empowers us," she said, "and the thing is that is essentially an unfounded claim that we would have that kind of power as providers if someone came in from outside and took us over.”

In response to some of Horton’s concerns, Gizdic and Coudriet said the intentions of any potential partner would be a large part of the consideration.

The county commission will meet at 4 p.m. Thursday to review its agenda for Sept. 3. There will not be a public hearing, but they do have the ability to discuss the agenda items.

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