Save Our Hospital, Inc. takes final shot against NHRMC sale

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NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WWAY) — Less than a week before county commissioners are expected to vote on a final agreement between New Hanover County and Novant Health to sell New Hanover Regional Medical Center, one local non-profit is aiming to delay the process until certain documents are made public.

Save Our Hospital Inc. filed a lawsuit Tuesday calling on the court to prohibit a final sale of the county-owned hospital until a public records request is granted.

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“We are not absolutely necessarily against a sale of the hospital, we just don’t like the way the matter has been handled,” said Save Our Hospital Inc. president Gene Merritt.

Merritt believes the public needs more information before the public hearing and vote.

“We’ve asked for a temporary restraining order restraining them from making a decision on selling the hospital until we have had a chance to get the information and review it,” Merritt said.

Merritt says the primary item of concern is the hospital’s strategic plan, which the entire sale/partnership process has been based on.

“We question whether the strategic plan is totally valid, or whether it’s been used as an excuse to sell the hospital,” Merritt said.

According to the complaint, Save Our Hospital Inc. has submitted several public records requests as far back as November 2019 and as recently as September 10, 2020.

NHRMC released a statement in response to the complaint, stating:

NHRMC has responded promptly to multiple requests for public documents throughout the partnership exploration from Save Our Hospital, elected officials and members of the media. We have consistently responded to each of these requests as quickly and openly as possible. The fourth and latest request from the attorney for Save Our Hospital, dated August 11, 2020, calls for hundreds of thousands of pages of documents and emails and will take some time to complete.

New Hanover Regional Medical Center has at all times fully complied with the laws governing public records requests. The unprecedented level of transparency of the partnership evaluation was noted by Ponder and Associates in its evaluation presented to the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners on July 13.  We strongly disagree with the claims asserted in the lawsuit and look forward to addressing them with the Court.

New Hanover County also released a statement:

New Hanover County is aware of the lawsuit filed against NHRMC and New Hanover County. At this time, we cannot share any comment specific to the lawsuit because it is pending litigation.

The public is encouraged to continue remaining engaged in this process to explore and evaluate opportunities for NHRMC. A third public hearing will be held on Monday, September 28 at 5 pm for additional input (comments can also be submitted ahead of time), and our community can stay educated on the details of the proposed agreement, use of net proceeds, and the in-depth documentation from the 14-month evaluation process by visiting NHRMCfuture.org.

Merritt says the case will be heard by a judge on Wednesday at 10:00 a.m.

“The judge will hear from our lawyers and the hospital’s lawyers and the county’s lawyers and we’ll see what happens,” he said.

If the judge denies the request, county commissioners will move forward with a public hearing on Monday, September 28.