WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — As New Hanover County Leaders get closer to making a decision about whether New Hanover Regional Medical Center should sell, partner or remain independent, dozens of people got a chance to voice questions and concerns Monday night.
The Wilmington-based non-profit Save Our Hospital Inc. co-hosted the virtual town hall, along with the State Employees Association of North Carolina or SEANC.
More than 35 people participated including elected officials like New Hanover County Commissioner Rob Zapple, Senator Harper Peterson and State Treasurer Dale Folwell.
“If things are that dire with capital needs here, capital needs there, profitability, if things were that dire, why is somebody going to pay you billions of dollars for it?” questions Folwell. “And the answer is because there’s something you’re not seeing.”
Familiar concerns were raised like higher prices and a lower quality of care if the hospital were to be sold. Others questioned the true financial needs of NHRMC, and the validity of the hospital’s strategic plan.
“If you go up to UNC Chapel Hill, that giant hospital up there, their capital plan for the next 10 years is $300 million,” said Wilmington resident John Merritt. “How is ours $2 billion?”
Some questioned the speed of the process during a worldwide pandemic.
“New Hanover’s CEO stated more than a year ago, in October actually of last year, less than a year ago, that this process would take well over a year,” said SEANC political strategist Amanda Finelli. “And then as soon as the pandemic hit it seemed as though the foot just went faster and harder on the gas, and that this deal became something that was railroaded out from underneath all of you.”
One point brought up frequently by the Partnership Advisory Group or PAG is that more capital is needed to fulfill NHRMC’s strategic plan, which includes building an additional hospital in the northern part of the county. Some argued that may no longer be necessary.
“What COVID has exposed is that fewer people are going to the emergency room for care,” said county commission candidate Kyle Horton. “We’re looking at innovative ways to meet people where they’re at.”
Nearly two hours in, PAG co-chair Spence Broadhurst joined the conversation, fielding questions about efforts to restructure.
“I mean, can you honestly say that you have exhausted all resources to keep this county owned?” Finelli asked.
“The answer to the question is we’ve done our job,” Broadhurst replied.
Broadhurst also defended the PAG over accusations the group didn’t more seriously value community input.
“If you’re thinking about what would fit the community best, certainly would you not consider asking the public what they wanted out of their hospital?” Finelli asked.
“Our responsibility is to do the work that perhaps the community has not had the resources or the time or the ability to do,” Broadhurst answered.
Finally, County Commissioner Rob Zapple denied rumors that the county would make a decision in the next two weeks.
“We are not voting on July 13th as a done deal, that is absolutely not happening,” Zapple said. “There are multiple other steps and other considerations.”
On Thursday, the PAG will vote on whether to move forward with Atrium, Duke, or Novant with a letter of interest. They will then make a recommendation to the NHRMC board of trustees and then county commissioners.