PAG announces preference to partner or sell NHRMC

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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — The group responsible for exploring the future of New Hanover Regional Medical Center, the Partnership Advisory Group, is all but confirming they plan to move forward with one of three potential partners or buyers.

Those three are Atrium Health, Duke Health, and Novant Health.

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“I think the advisory group has gone through an evolution that the community will go through,” said PAG co-chair Spence Broadhurst.

At the PAG’s 15th official meeting in nine months, the group talked through a presentation comparing how remaining independent, restructuring or partnering with an outside organization would serve 18 key proposal elements.

“We’ve gotten to the point where we’re really considering the fact that having a partner would give us a lot more opportunity than it would if we were status quo or tried to restructure,” said co-chair Barb Biehner.

After the discussion, all 21 members got a chance to share their thoughts to the rest of the group.

“I think the significant thing tonight was to hear the testimonials from the advisory group of how they started, what their mindset was,” Broadhurst said. “A lot of skepticism including me, probably including you.”

After nine months of volunteer work and education, that skepticism dissipated. One member compared NHRMC remaining independent to Blockbuster not buying Netflix when it had the chance.

PAG Co-chair Spence Broadhurst says a big factor in the changing opinions is the understanding of health equity and the need to bring healthcare to low-income and rural communities that may not have access to it.

“I think that understanding really turned the tide for a lot of the advisory group members saying, ‘Okay, we need a partner with some scope and some scale, so we that we can build another hospital in the northern part of the county where we so badly need it,” Broadhurst said.

Fellow co-chair Barb Biehner says the COVID-19 pandemic also drew attention the need for access to more resources.

“We really realized more importantly than ever that to respond to pandemics or natural disasters or whatever, you’re better to have a system that can support you,” she said.

Less than 24 hours before the meeting, Atrium Health submitted a new option to purchase the hospital for $2 billion rather than the 40-year lease they originally proposed.

“It raises the point that the Novant offer, which appeared to be financially superior to the other two, is actually more the market offer,” Broadhurst said. “And now that Atrium has raised their offer it says that’s the value of this entity.”

Broadhurst and Biehner say it is possible that Duke and Novant could also come back with new offers, but right now the PAG is just going off of what they have in front of them.

There will be a public hearing on Monday for those in the community to voice concerns and comments.

To learn more about how you can participate, click here.

A video of Thursday night’s full meeting will be posted here.