Partnership Advisory Group recommends agreement with Novant, matter moves to NHRMC Trustees and County Commission

The group voted unanimously to approve the asset purchase agreement and send it on to the NHRMC Board of Trustees and the New Hanover County Commission
Updated: Sep. 29, 2020 at 7:13 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - After nearly a year of work, the Partnership Advisory Group unanimously recommended the proposed asset purchase agreement with Novant Health before gaveling out one last time.

The deal, which was the subject of a public hearing Monday, would transfer New Hanover Regional Medical Center to Novant Health, and bring UNC Medical School into the fold for a coastal region health system.

The group voted unanimously to recommend the county and hospital adopt the asset purchase agreement and sent it on to the NHRMC Board of Trustees and the New Hanover County Commission, which will consider the agreement on Thursday Oct. 1 and Monday Oct. 5, respectively.

PAG Co-Chair Barb Biehner said she is proud of the work the group has accomplished.

“We really have been on a long journey,” she said. “I think we’ve all come along now to understand that it’s going to make the difference for this community in this region.”

During the meeting, the advisory group held a closed session to discuss remaining matters that fall under the state’s confidential information protections, but they also asked a few questions publicly about concerns that have been raised regarding the agreement.

In particular, they discussed whether Novant would have influence over the members of the local board and the members of the new private, nonprofit foundation board.

A consultant explained there will ultimately be two boards overseeing the hospital: the main, 17-member board over the new regional health system, and then a smaller board dedicated to the daily work of the local hospital itself.

That main board, which will include at least 12 residents of the hospital system’s coverage area, will be self-sustaining — meaning once the initial members are established ahead of the close of purchase, those members will appoint subsequent members.

Novant Health will have the ability to ratify or approve new members, and those approvals may not be “unreasonably withheld, conditioned or delayed,” according to the agreement.

PAG members also asked about the new foundation board, which has also been the subject of concern.

That board will be appointed by the new 17 member board and New Hanover County, staff explained.

When asked about the concern over board appointments, as well as questions about why the new private, nonprofit would not be required to abide by North Carolina open meetings laws, PAG Co-Chair Spence Broadhurst didn’t respond directly, but said he is glad the conversation has shifted.

“I think it’s wonderful that the conversation has shifted from ‘is this really a good idea,’ which I think the community has said, ‘Yes, this partnership is the right idea,’” he said, referencing a Novant-commissioned survey on public opinion regarding the sale.

“It’s exciting to have those conversations back and forth. But it’s clear that the decisions and the focus will all be New Hanover County.”

The NHRMC Board of Trustees meeting will be streamed online, and the County Commission meeting will be open to the public as well as streamed.

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