WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — Last month, New Hanover County announced it was exploring the idea of selling New Hanover Regional Medical Center. Hospital President and CEO John Gizdic says several billion dollars will need to be put into it over the next decade to keep up with the growing population.
On Monday, a public forum was held so residents could give their input about the potential sale. It was standing room only at the Northeast Regional Library, as hundreds showed up to have their voices heard and learn about the county’s plans. A large majority of that crowd was against the county selling NHRMC.
“This is an absolutely ridiculous, awful idea,” said one man, who claimed to be a medical professional. “I’ve worked with private hospitals, they cut things, and the reason I send them here is because you have resources and abilities they don’t have. That’s potentially going to go away.”
Another man chimed in, saying the decision whether or not to sell the hospital shouldn’t be left up to commissioners alone.
“This is what’s been forgotten in all of this discussion over the last 20 years: the taxpayers own the hospital,” he said. “Not the county, the taxpayers own every dime, every bed, every needle, every doctor.”
Members of the community expressed their fears that selling to a private company could affect the quality of medical services, increase prices for patients, and decrease salaries for approximately 7,000 workers.
“I’m hearing from citizens that this is not what they want to see happen with what they call ‘their hospital,'” said County Commission Chair Jonathan Barfield.
Commissioner Barfield interjected at one point during the meeting. As the moderator attempted to steer the conversation away from the potential sale of the hospital, instead asking citizens what they want out of local healthcare, Barfield stood up.
“My comment was, let the people speak, listen to what these folks have to say, and then respond to those things versus trying to put everyone down a funnel so-to-speak, and put everyone in the same category,” he said.
Attendee Suzy Tenenbaum lives in Leland. She says people from other counties should have a say as well, since they also use the hospital.
“I can’t believe this process,” Tenenbaum said. “This process has been two 1 1/2 hours, that’s not enough time for all the people in New Hanover and surrounding counties to give their input. This is a huge step to sell our community hospital, and we need time.”
However, not everyone shared the same views. Some people, including some hospital employees, said commissioners should be able to explore their option.
“What you are hearing tonight is opinion,” said one woman. “Even what I’m about to tell you is an opinion. Our county commissioners should make decisions based on data.”
Another meeting is being held Tuesday morning at the Senior Resource Center at 2222 South College Road at 8:30 a.m.
On September 3 at the New Hanover County Commission meeting, leaders will discuss and decide whether or not to move forward with a sale.