WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - City council members plan to discuss a resolution during their meeting Tuesday urging the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners to put the possible sale of New Hanover Regional Medical Center on hold for a year to get more information.
The resolution states in part:
“THAT, action by the County Commission on the proposed Request for Proposal be tabled in order to hold extensive community discussion, including addressing the concerns of community members who are skeptical of the sale option, over the next year to consider relevant healthcare issues, healthcare funding, hospital economics, medical advances, antitrust issues, and other important topics so that the community may have a thorough appreciation of the issues and be confident that their best interest is paramount.”
Here’s a look at the full resolution:
Before the county moved forward with the resolution of intent to sell, Mayor Bill Saffo indicated during an interview with WECT’s Jon Evans that if the county moved forward, the city council would likely take an official stance on the issue.
At Monday morning’s agenda briefing, Saffo said he, Paul Lawler and Kevin O’Grady were bringing the resolution forward.
“Everybody knows what’s going on with the hospital is hugely important,” Lawler said, “and there’s questions about it all the time. We’re still getting questions about it.”
Lawler said he hopes county and hospital leaders will further explain the industry trends and other information they’ve referenced when describing the possible change in ownership.
After learning of the resolution, WECT reached out to the hospital as well as the members of Wilmington City Council and New Hanover County Commission for comment on this development.
Council member Charlie Rivenbark said while he hasn’t read the resolution actually on the agenda, he did see a draft earlier this week, and he is not a fan.
“I’m not in favor of it in any form," he said. "That’s not our call. Everybody is entitled to their opinion … but I don’t think that’s council’s place to be sending resolution to the county.”
He said if council members are against the possible sale, they should reach out directly to county leaders.
Council member Neil Anderson says he didn’t know the topic was scheduled to be discussed.
“I was not aware it was going to be on next week’s agenda, was not consulted. While I have not heard any good reason to sell the hospital, I have none of the background information the commissioners and hospital board members have. If city council was going to weigh in, we should have done so prior to the commissioners vote. We had plenty of time to do so before the decision. The timing is interesting. Not sure it’s our place really to do so anyway. I know we do not like when other branches of government tell us what to do. The resolution reads almost exactly like what the committee being named Monday will be doing, thus not sure why there is a need for this resolution,” said Anderson.
County Manager Chris Coudriet, speaking Friday afternoon at a media roundtable scheduled prior to the announcement of the resolution, came out against the year-long delay.
“The process should not be tabled, we will continue to move forward in a thorough and deliberate way at the direction of the board of county commissioners and through this process, we are going to look at all options and all alternatives and we are going to include the public in every step along the way,” Coudriet said.
NHRMC CEO John Gizdic, also at the roundtable, was against the possible delay as well.
“Hopefully as you’ve seen and heard today, there will be tremendous community input and opportunities for many members of the community to be involved in this process and the idea of tabling this discussion will only delay our ability to get the information needed on behalf of the community and our organization to make the best decisions on how to move forward with securing the future of healthcare,” Gizdic said.
County commissioners voted 3-2 in September to explore the sale of the county-owned hospital. Commissioners Julia Olson-Boseman, Woody White and Pat Kusek voted in favor of the resolution of intent to sell. Commission Chair Jonathan Barfield and Rob Zapple voted against it.
Commission Vice-Chair Olson-Boseman had some pointed words toward the city council. She responded: “The City is welcome to participate in the process going forward along with the remainder of the citizens of New Hanover County. I think the City Council should be focusing on actual issues that can do something about like Wave Transit, since it’s in crisis, instead of passing meaningless resolutions for political gain.”
Commission Chair Barfield said:
“The City of Wilmington represents a significant portion of citizens in New Hanover County as our largest municipality. I’m sure in their roles as elected officials they’ve heard from a significant number of their constituents as I have about their concerns related to the Intent to Sell Resolution passed by the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners. They like other stakeholders have the right to state their concerns pro or con, and it’s our responsibility to take all of those concerns in consideration as we go through this process.”
Zapple said he supports the city’s resolution, saying “this would help slow down the process, a process that the community feels is moving too fast for such a major change in one of the most important institutions in New Hanover County that affect the lives of every citizen in our community. A one-year delay would allow time for the hospital administration and the NHRMC Board of Trustees to explain why a change is needed at all.”
Zapple added he feels there are still many unanswered questions.
White said he did not want to comment on the city’s pending resolution.
The vote approving the “resolution of intent to sell” does not require the county to sell the hospital, and county and hospital leaders have been adamant this is the beginning of the process despite having engaged with consultants for the better part of 2019. At this point, the county and hospital are working to form an advisory committee that will develop the request for proposal needed to explore the hospital’s future.
This isn’t the first time there has been a request to put the brakes on the process. Physician leadership at the hospital had requested in August a delay of the vote scheduled in September. The group asked for a delay of up to 90 days, but commissioners moved forward since, according to County Manager Chris Coudriet, "it had already been noticed to the public in accordance with general statues.”
City council members will take up the resolution at the end of their Tuesday, Oct. 15 meeting.
Other elected officials have already taken a stand on the issue — State Senator Harper Peterson filed a complaint with the North Carolina Attorney General’s office over concerns about transparency in the process so far.