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As Partnership Advisory Group prepares to dig into pending deal with Novant, doctors say partnership could improve access to pediatric care

Updated: Sep. 8, 2020 at 6:59 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - One of the key tenets of the exploration of the future of New Hanover Regional Medical Center has been access to healthcare.

If the pending deal with Novant Health and UNC Medical School goes through, doctors say that access will improve—especially when it comes to children.

UNC has had partnerships with NHRMC for years, including sending down specialists a couple times a week for special clinics.

Otherwise, when children are referred to specialists, they often have to travel to Raleigh or Chapel Hill to receive care from oncologists, cardiologists, endocrinologists and other specialists.

With the new partnership with Novant, UNC would expand its footprint, by bringing in physicians to operate out of Wilmington and by increasing the trips others make to the region.

“We’re super excited about this,” said Dr. Stephanie Duggins Davis, professor and chair of UNC Chapel Hill’s pediatrics department. “We know that this will help to improve access and this is the best thing for children and families in that area.”

This would be accomplished by expanding the “pipeline” of providers based on the needs identified by established pediatricians and primary care physicians already in the NHRMC system.

Dr. Joseph Pino, director of the Wilmington branch of UNC’s medicial school and a NHRMC physician with a background in pediatrics, and also one of the Partnership Advisory Group vice-chairs, explained that improved access to healthcare is one of the three pillars of the hospital’s strategic plan, and a major part of the PAG’s key goals.

So is the equity of healthcare, he said, especially in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

“In a day and age where folks have been losing their jobs, unemployment benefits have come to an end, these are very real issues about getting access. And in this case, it’s transportation,” he said. "And so the health equity piece is you’re removing that barrier of transportation, and enabling people to have access physically within the county, or within a neighboring county.”

Pino said the exact specialties and timeline for additional physician availability would need to be worked out after the deal goes through, if it indeed does.

“I think there’s some dialogue that’s going to be needed with the local pediatric providers and UNC, and to develop a game plan moving forward of what makes most sense,” he said, “because it’s going to be best if the offerings meet the needs of the community.”

The Partnership Advisory Group will meet Wednesday evening to go over the details of the proposed deal.

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