NEW HANOVER COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - It was standing room only as opponents of a possible sale or new partnership for New Hanover Regional Medical Center came out to discuss the issue.
State Treasurer Dale Folwell spoke along with Duke University professor Barak Richman and Wilmington Renaissance Foundation CEO Bill Graham.
Folwell spoke to the rising cost of healthcare nationwide, his dealings with North Carolina’s state employees healthcare plan, and his push for a clear pricing initiative.
The state treasurer has been outspoken about the possible change in ownership of NHRMC and echoed his previous concerns that a change in ownership would mean higher prices and less access to quality healthcare.
“What we’re doing, especially to the working folks ... what we’re doing is we’re destroying their joy of achievement, and we’re destroying their upward mobility," he said.
NHRMC is one of the largest county-owned hospitals in the country, making it relatively unique in its success, Folwell said, so he believes it would be a loss for control to be moved out of local hands.
Richman discussed the academic side of the issue, explaining to the crowd some of the consequences he said have been seen in other mergers and consolidations of healthcare systems.
“We see this spread throughout the United States," Richman said. "There’s been a tremendous amount of concern among academics about these consolidations.”
Rising costs are a particular concern when there are healthcare monopolies, Richman said, referencing academic studies done on other consolidations and mergers.
Graham echoed the professor’s concerns, saying while the discussion is outside of what the Wilmington Renaissance Foundation typically deals with, they wanted to get involved.
“The outcomes from these kinds of mergers have been terrible, and it’s so well established that you’re going to have higher costs and probably less-quality care," Graham said. "We have a good hospital and it can get better and they’ve been working to make it better and we want them to continue to do what they’re already doing and do it even better.”
Graham said there are also aspects of staying independent he wants to make sure the Partnership Advisory Group takes into account.
“What we are seeing is all the forces in the market right now are saying, let’s be cautious,” he said. “If we are cautious we don’t get in financial trouble by over expanding at a bad time, or selling out to somebody who’s going to take it vantage of us, take away the money we already have. That’s not good. So we’d like to see a balanced sensible approach moving forward.”
Given the overwhelming turnout and sometimes pointed comments at the Partnership Advisory Group and members of the New Hanover County Commission, WECT reached out to the hospital and county for comment on Tuesday night’s event.
“We appreciate the community’s interest in how we can best improve the health and well-being of this region,” said hospital spokesperson Carolyn Fisher. “We encourage everyone who is interested in the topic to follow the work of the NHRMC Partnership Advisory Group as they thoroughly and openly explore all the issues and options available to us. Their meetings and documents are public and online at Nhrmcfuture.org.”
The next PAG meeting will take place at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, January 23.
At that meeting, the PAG is expected to begin discussing what it would look like to remain independent, and what options there are to do so while also addressing some of the economic uncertainties NHRMC is facing.