County commissioners get update on top 3 contenders for potential hospital partnership

NHC commissioners move closer to a vote on hospital partnership

NEW HANOVER COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - New Hanover County commissioners are moving closer to a vote on a proposed partnership for the county-owned New Hanover Regional Medical Center (NHRMC). Commissioners will also consider restructuring without necessarily changing ownership, and leaving things at the hospital under the status quo.

The Partnership Advisory Group (PAG) has been meeting regularly for nine months to weigh all the possibilities of a possible partnership, and will form a recommendation for county commissioners based on 18 key measurements.

Monday morning, PAG co-chair Spence Broadhurst and co-vice-chair Joseph Pino, M.D., provided commissioners with several updates, including details on a proposed partnership between finalist Novant Health and UNC Healthcare that would potentially expand the medical school’s footprint in Wilmington. Pino also mentioned the possibility of UNC expanding the presence of its pharmacy, dental, and public health programs in the Port City.

In response, commissioners had several questions and comments.

Commissioner Jonathan Barfield said he’d like more information on the viability of the status quo. Barfield said, at this point, he doesn’t have enough information to decide if he’d support letters of intent to Atrium, Duke, or Novant, the three potential partner offers the PAG found to be most appealing. Similarly, Commissioner Rob Zapple asked for a written plan for restructuring the hospital while remaining independent. Both indicated a desire to see as much study placed on exploring the viability of those possibilities as researching potential partners.

Zapple asked if NHRMC could expand its medical training program without partnering with an outside group. Pino said it was possible, but it would be expensive to do without outside financial backing. Zapple indicated that some members of the community felt the exploration process had been rushed, especially with the considerable distractions of COVID-19 and recent civil unrest. Broadhurst said they had been researching this for nearly a year so far through a very deliberate process.

Commissioner Woody White said he felt the county would be far better off under any of the three proposals to purchase or partner with our hospital. He noted he was especially impressed with Atrium’s behavioral health proposals for southeastern North Carolina and their health equity offerings. He said Duke’s world-renowned reputation made them an appealing partner and noted the high valuation that Novant placed on their proposed purchase of NHRMC.

A vote on how to proceed could happen as soon as July 13, although that is not official. The PAG meets again on June 18 and July 7. The county has a public meeting on possible next steps scheduled for June 22.

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