NC attorney general clears sale of NHRMC — with conditions

Stein’s sign off on the deal comes with the requirement that NHRMC and New Hanover County agree to stronger transparency and independence
Updated: Jan. 21, 2021 at 11:00 AM EST
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NEW HANOVER COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - After more than a year and a half of meetings, public forums and discussion, the sale of Southeastern North Carolina’s largest employer and healthcare provider has cleared its final hurdle as state Attorney General Josh Stein announced he won’t object to the transaction — as long as certain conditions are met.

Stein said in a press release Thursday morning the coronavirus pandemic has shown the importance of easily-accessible healthcare, and it was a poignant background to considering New Hanover Regional Medical Center joining Novant Health.

“My attorneys and I kept that fact in mind as we reviewed this transaction,” Stein said. “I am pleased to announce that our negotiations have resulted in stronger health care protections for the community and a more representative, more transparent, and more accountable endowment. Therefore, I will not be objecting to the transaction.”

Stein’s sign off on the deal comes with the requirement that NHRMC and New Hanover County agree to stronger transparency and independence on the part of the new board in charge of the roughly $1.25 billion that will be left over after the county directs some of the funds to various efforts.

The new foundation board in charge of the endowment will be required to hold public meetings ahead of its initial decision making with regard to the funds, as well as hold two public meetings each year to provide updates on the foundation’s efforts and it must form a community advisory committee.

Additionally, the foundation will need to provide quarterly written reports about its efforts, rather than semi-annually.

With regard to the make up of the board itself, two additional seats must be added, with those positions focused on ensuring health equity and that marginalized communities are served by the foundation’s efforts.

The attorney general’s office also made other line-item negotiations throughout the agreement.

With those negotiated improvements to the sale agreement, and because his office determined the sale price for the community hospital was “fair” and the process met the requirements of state law, Stein won’t stop the deal from happening.

However, he said in the release he still has concerns about the continued consolidation of hospitals across North Carolina, and he will try to work with the North Carolina General Assembly to determine if there is more the state should be doing when considering these sales.

Right now, the attorney general can only object to the sale after reviewing it, and enforce the state’s antitrust laws should it be needed.

“I look forward to working with leaders in the legislature to determine whether or not North Carolinians would be better served by a more comprehensive system of review that could scrutinize further conglomeration of healthcare systems,” Stein said in the release.

Representatives from New Hanover County, NHRMC and Novant Health announced that with the attorney general’s sign off, they are looking forward to officially beginning the partnership on Feb. 1.

“We appreciate the Attorney General’s thorough review of this transaction,” County Commission Chair Julia Olson-Boseman said in a released statement. “There have been so many people who have examined, researched, and carefully vetted the facts and details throughout this process – and that now includes the Attorney General’s Office with his detailed review. I believe it’s now time to acknowledge the comprehensive and open process that got us here, as well as the integrity of the people who have been involved. And with the Attorney General’s decision today, it is my hope that this can bring closure to the debate around this partnership and that our community can rally around this incredible opportunity. I look forward to the future that lies ahead for healthcare in this region, as well as an endowment that will transform our community and make us stronger.”

Spence Broadhurst, who was chair of the Partnership Advisory Group and who is now chair and president of the Community Endowment Board said in the county’s release he was excited about the announcement, and they welcomed the conditions set by the attorney general.

“We have been working directly with the Attorney General’s office on these enhancements and believe they are directly aligned with our board’s commitment to transparency and vision of a community-driven endowment. We look forward to fully engaging our community as we develop our strategic framework. Our entire board is passionate about changing lives, strengthening our community organizations and making a lasting impact for generations to come.”

Hospital leadership also expressed excitement for the partnership moving forward.

“We are looking forward to being a part of the Novant Health family and working together to improve the health of our region,” John Gizdic, President and CEO of New Hanover Regional Medical Center, said in the release. “There is so much more we can do to improve care with their support and our team is ready to get started.”

Gizdic will remain in the top leadership role with the newly-formed branch of Novant Health.

Carl Armato, President and CEO of Novant Health, further expounded on the excitement for the upcoming changes:

We are pleased to hear the North Carolina Attorney General does not object to the partnership between Novant Health and New Hanover Regional Medical Center. Novant Health is honored the Partnership Advisory Group and New Hanover County Commissioners saw the tremendous value of Novant Health as a partner for New Hanover Regional Medical Center to improve the health of New Hanover County and the surrounding communities.

We value the impressive legacy New Hanover Regional Medical Center has established as a premier health care provider in southeastern North Carolina, and we are confident this partnership will offer the region a world-class hospital network that will allow patients to receive higher quality care closer to home, expand the availability of care to underserved communities, help keep costs down, and deliver leading-edge care for decades to come.

We look forward to closing on this partnership as soon as possible so we can start working with the impressive team at New Hanover Regional Medical Center in our pursuit to make healthcare in Southeastern North Carolina remarkable.

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