NHRMC Partnership Advisory Group close to drafting letter of intent with potential partner


WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — The advisory group tasked with evaluating the future of New Hanover Regional Medical Center is getting closer to drafting a letter of intent to submit to one of the health care systems that have submitted a proposal for partnering with the hospital.

Those organizations include Novant Health, Duke Health and Atrium Health.

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The Wilmington-based non-profit Save Our Hospital, Inc., and the State Employees Association of North Carolina hosted a virtual town hall meeting Monday night to allow the community to voice concerns and address questions to members of the NHRMC Partnership Advisory Group, or PAG.

One participant was North Carolina State Treasurer Dale Folwell who expressed concerns about the financial reasons in which the PAG has presented to substantiate their reasons why the hospital should partner with a health care system.

“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,” Folwell asked. “The answer is because there’s something you’re not seeing.”

PAG Co-chair Spence Broadhurst disagrees.

“We have been working on this for nine months, its an all volunteer group, we have turned over every rock we can find to look into what’s best for healthcare for the future of this generation,” Broadhurst said.

The primary mission of the PAG, he says, is to evaluate the best delivery mode for healthcare going forward for the next generation and how it can be done in the most cost-effective manner.

“Hurricane Florence, most recently the COVID situation, has exposed so many vulnerabilities to running as an independent, stand-alone entity, we just had to ask the question — what’s the best way to do it and the PAG, through all this process and all our information, has come to the conclusion that a partnership is our best route,” Broadhurst said. “We do need capital to be able to provide the type of healthcare this community deserves.”

Despite Broadhurst’s reasoning, a number of people worry the PAG has moved too quickly in reaching its decision, especially considering the Coronavirus pandemic is still going on.

“We did pause for a couple of months, 45 days, while people got their legs under them for the pandemic, but the pandemic is just one of many healthcare variables that have come up, that validates why we are doing this, why we need to move forward, why we need to explore all the options that are available to us to make sure that we have a sustainable hospital, medical center, for southeastern North Carolina,” he said. “The COVID situation has just put an exclamation point on how important this is to move forward.”

Some people worry if the hospital is sold or partners with another healthcare entity, it will result in higher healthcare costs and/or a lower quality of patient care.

“Its no secret that healthcare costs all over America are skyrocketing and have been and that’s one of the reasons why we started having these conversations,” Broadhurst said. “The question is–what is the best mechanism to maintain those costs going forward, is it stand alone where we could be exposed to to those kind of vulnerabilities or is it a partnership with a larger, professional well run organization that has the resources to withstand those kind of things and therefore hold down costs,” he said.

Because of that, he says the PAG unanimously voted to move forward with a partnership.

“Having those kind of resources behind us as a community is absolutely the right way to go,” he said.

The PAG plans to vote Thursday, July 2, on whether to submit a letter of interest with Atrium Health, Duke Health or Novant Health. The group will then make its  recommendation to the NHRMC Board of Trustees and later to New Hanover County commissioners.