New Hanover County explores idea of selling NHRMC

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NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WWAY) — After owning New Hanover Regional Medical Center for 52 years, New Hanover County is exploring the idea of selling the hospital.

NHRMC is the largest independent hospital in North Carolina and the third largest in the entire country, said County Manager Chris Coudriet. It is a county-owned health system, but no tax dollars are used to subsidize the hospital. In 1961, voters approved bonds to build the hospital, but those have been paid off.

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One reason for the potential sale is the growing population and the investment that will need to be made in facilities across the region to keep up with the growing needs of the community.

NHRMC President and CEO John Gizdic said in the past 10 to 12 years, NHRMC has spent $1 billion in facilities and technology alone. Over the next decade, several billion more will need to be spent to keep up with the community’s growing needs.

“It would be the largest decision in the history of our organization,” Gizdic said.

The decision on whether to consider new ownership comes as changes in the healthcare industry are leading more health systems to explore creative solutions. If sold, the hospital could become privately owned.

“Continuing our Charity Care policy and providing services to everyone, regardless of ability to pay is certainly a key criteria and priority in any proposal that we would evaluate,” Gizdic said.

Gizdic says they have several top priorities that they would look for in a potential buyer, including maintaining the current lease with Pender Memorial Hospital and medical staff.

“We cannot underestimate the importance of having an organization that fits culturally, not only with our organization, but with our community,” Gizdic said.

County commissioners will consider a resolution to explore new ownership opportunities at its September 3 meeting.

“We’re clinically, financially and operationally strong today, but we recognize that to prepare for an uncertain future, we need to consider new ways to support investments in the people, technology and services that can make a significant difference in the health of our community,” said Gizdic, in a news release.

If Commissioners approve the “Resolution of Intent to Sell”, county and hospital leaders would explore whether a larger healthcare system could support NHRMC in adapting to changes in the industry while advancing health and wellness for area residents through increased investment in services and community initiatives.

County Commissioners Julia Bozeman says if the hospital is sold, the money could be put back into the community.

“It’s the future of health care and what we could do for these equity drivers in our community,” Bozeman said. “The food deserts. Education. Investing in the inner city schools. Giving the Sheriff the money that they need to stop the drugs at our county lines.”

A team, including commissioners and NHRMC leaders, would look at whether another organization’s proposals would include the following:

  • Improving access to care and wellness through more consumer-centric options.
  • Advancing the value of the care we provide through higher quality and lower costs, effectively managing the health of our region to not only treat the sick but keep them well.
  • Achieving health equity through community partnerships and activities that remove barriers to care, enabling our residents to achieve their own optimal health.
  • Supporting NHRMC staff and the culture that has made NHRMC one of the top places to work in the country.
  • Partnering with providers to make southeastern North Carolina an excellent place to practice medicine so we can continue to attract talented and compassionate providers to care for our growing population.
  • Driving quality care throughout the continuum and helping facilitate transitions with other providers to deliver more seamless and coordinated care models.
  • Growing the level and scope of care already in place for all, regardless of ability to pay.
  • Investing to ensure the long-term financial security and future of our health system.

NHRMC currently has a $1.25 billion operating budget with 7,000 employees. Currently, to sustain growth and make advancements, county bonds are used for funding, but the hospital pays the debt.

Coudriet says now is a great time to explore because the hospital is the strongest it’s ever been.

“The county, along with the hospital, can craft all of its priorities in the request for a proposal,” Coudriet said. “I believe if we were to proceed, there would be a very high bar.”

Gizdic said with our growing population, especially retirees moving into the area, there’s a need for facilities all over the region, which could possibly including enhancing the current hospital at 17th street, or perhaps adding on to the emergency room in Porters Neck.

The potential sale could also impact Pender Memorial Hospital, which NHRMC currently leases. Gizdic says that would also be part of the dialogue and discussion with potential bidders.

As a county-owned hospital, NHRMC also provides care to uninsured patients. Privately-owned hospitals may turn away patients in a non-emergency.

Gizdic said that would also be part of the discussion with potential bidders, as far as how they approach care for anybody, regardless of their ability to pay.

Gizdic said their goal is to only positively enhance what they’re doing, not provide less service.

Community Forums

NHRMC and New Hanover County leaders will host two forums for the community to share their thoughts about what is important to the future of health and wellness in the region.

  • August 19, 6-7:30 p.m. at the Northeast Regional Library, 1241 Military Cutoff Road
  • August 20, 8:30 -10 a.m. at the Senior Resource Center, 2222 South College Road

One proposal are received, additional employee, provider and community forums will be held to share information, and prior to another vote of the New Hanover County Commissioners.

If approved, the selection of a new owner and execution of an agreement could take more than a year. NHRMC said hospital services, providers, and employees will continue daily operations without interruption while these discussions occur and there will not be a change in how residents access care.

“Our County Commissioners are committed to the health and well-being of the community and recognize their role in ensuring NHRMC’s future,” said Coudriet in the prepared release. “NHRMC and New Hanover County will work together to chart the best path forward, whether that’s with a new partner or maintaining the current county ownership.”

New Hanover County and NRHMC leaders will hold a media roundtable this afternoon. WWAY will be there and have more information coming up tonight on WWAY News.

You can stay informed about the process here.