Judge hears lawsuit attempting to delay NHRMC sale

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NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WWAY) — Less than a week before the third and final public hearing regarding the 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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A judge heard Save Our Hospital’s request for a temporary restraining order to delay the sale/partnership of NHRMC. They’ve asked the judge for a preliminary injunction hearing in the next 10 days to get the temporary restraining order.

“The decision has been made, so they’re only trying to explain in their own right, maybe what they did and all that, but it’s too late,” Save Our Hospital President Gene Merritt said.

The group requested the release of documents, including NHRMC’s strategic plan. In court, the group argued that the county has been forthcoming, but NRHMC has not.

“It’s mainly the hospital that’s been pretty much non responsive to our requests,” Merritt said. “we have made some minor requests of the hospital from time to time. just questions about this and that, but i’m talking about the major stuff.”

Merritt says the most importantly document they haven’t gotten is the hospital’s strategic plan. He says the county has given them the records they’ve requested, but the hospital hasn’t given them everything they’ve requested.

At the hearing Wednesday morning, attorneys for both the county and the hospital argued they have responded to each public records request the group has made, dating back to mid 2019, in a timely manner. They says they have provided everything they legally can, but certain requests require hundreds of pages worth of documents that take time to gather.

“From my experience and what we’re being told, this has been maybe the most transparent process like this in the country,” Partnership Advisory Group co-Chair Spence Broadhurst said. “Certainly in our area, and certainly in North Carolina, but maybe nationwide.”

According to a new survey done by a third party on behalf of Novant, it shows 72% of the 1,000 people surveyed in New Hanover, Brunswick, Pender, Columbus and Bladen counties said a partnership would have a positive impact on the community. 10% said it would have a negative impact.

Merritt says they’ve never been entirely against a sale or partnership, but he doesn’t think the public has been given all the information they should have. He also says the public should have been included more in the decision making process.

“Basically, our concern is not necessarily to stop the sale of the hospital, but you could say to slow it down a bit until the public has an understanding of how the deal came down,” Merritt said.

Broadhurst says the results of the recent survey show the community is ready for this partnership.

“This has been a transparent process, and it’s been going on for a year,” Broadhurst said. “We’ve done a tremendous amount of due diligence. The community believes in this.”

New Hanover County Attorney Wanda Copley released the following statement:

“New Hanover County has complied quickly and thoroughly with all public records requests of Save Our Hospital and its representatives; and in the hearing today, counsel for Save Our Hospital acknowledged that. The county will continue to be transparent and will continue to willingly share all of the public information we have related to this and any other matter as required by law.”

The county and NHRMC also submitted a brief and accompanying affidavits in opposition to the motion for temporary restraining order.

NHRMC and NHC’s Response in Opposition to Motion for TRO

Affidavit with Exhibits A – C, 4830-1831-2140

Affidavit including Exhibits A – E, 4843-7543-1116

TRO Hearing Notebook – NHRMC and County 4828-6076-2828

The final public comment hearing is Monday, September 28 at 5 p.m. A final vote on the agreement is set to happen in October.