County commissioners approve sale of NHRMC to Novant Health

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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — The future of New Hanover Regional Medical Center has been made.

In a 4-to-1 vote, New Hanover County Commissioners approved a multi-billion dollar agreement with Novant Health on Monday.

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Last week, both the Partnership Advisory Group and the hospital’s Board of Trustees approved the final purchase agreement.

“Today’s vote is about securing quality healthcare that every single person needs and deserves,” Board of Commissioners Chair Julia Olson-Boseman said. “By joining our hospital with Novant – we are securing healthcare for generations to come. We are promising a better quality of life, more access to healthcare, greater innovation and technology, enhanced academic experiences, and less health disparities. We are ensuring safe, high-quality, cost-effective care for every person.”

Through the agreement, Novant Health will purchase NHRMC from New Hanover County for $1.5 billion, invest more than $3 billion in NHRMC’s services in the area, and expand the hospital’s relationship with UNC Health and UNC School of Medicine – which will enhance medical education already in place, expand a children’s clinical service-line partnership with UNC Children’s Hospital, and develop research clinical trials and population health studies programs.

The county says net proceeds from this purchase, which include $1.5 billion from the sale and around $440 million in the hospital’s current net assets, will go to benefit the community – with the majority of proceeds, an estimated $1.25 billion, invested in the New Hanover Community Endowment.

“The New Hanover Community Endowment will truly change lives,” Olson-Boseman said. “And the way it is being structured keeps politics out of it, and will allow for the best investments to ensure our community can benefit from millions of dollars more each year. This endowment will help our most vulnerable and underserved, bring resources and support to local organizations, and truly assist our residents – and our community will be better for it.”

The community endowment will be overseen by an 11-member board made up of New Hanover County residents, with five members appointed by Commissioners and six appointed by the community members on the hospital’s new Local Board. The Commissioners’ first five appointments were named in the adopted resolution and the remaining six appointments by the Local Board will be made in the coming weeks, in order for the endowment’s board to be established and ready to assume the sale proceeds designated to it at closing.

The county says Novant Health, as the parent organization, will not be part of the Local Board’s appointments to the community endowment. You can view the bylaws here.

Prior to the meeting, the Save Our Hospital group held a demonstration protesting against the sale at Innis Park, making one final plea to county commissioners not to sell the hospital.

“The people of this county stuck their necks out formed this hospital by voting for the bond issue to create it in 1967, and now three people are going to decide to sell it,” said Alex Hall, the group’s attorney.

Four commissioners ended up voting in favor of the agreement, with Rob Zapple being the only one to vote against it. However, he said his decision wasn’t about Novant, or even the sale of the hospital.

“If it were possible today for a motion to separate the approval of the purchase agreement from the other issues in this resolution, I would vote yes,” Zapple said during Monday’s commission meeting. “I would support Novant’s purchase of the hospital.”

Zapple’s concern is how the proceeds from the sale will be spent, namely the $1.25 billion going to a community foundation. This foundation, also referred to as an endowment, will be a non-profit organization, and not subject to open meeting laws.

“I cannot accept putting control of that money into the hands of a private foundation,” Zapple said before voting against the resolution.

Olson-Boseman says the goal is to leave politics out of the equation. Commissioners have already appointed five members to the foundation’s board of directors. They are:

  • Spence Broadhurst of Wilmington (appointed for a three-year term)
  • Dr. Virginia Adams of Wilmington (appointed for a three-year term)
  • Hannah Gage of Wilmington (appointed for a three-year term)
  • Stedman Stevens of Wilmington (appointed for a two-year term)
  • Shannon Winslow of Wilmington (appointed for a two-year term)

“I don’t think it gets much better than the community appointments that we just put on there with Spence Broadhurst, Dr. Virginia Adams, and Hannah Gage,” Olson-Boseman said. “I feel with those three people alone that the foundation is in great hands and I have no worries about the foundation or how open and responsible they’re going to be with the money to benefit New Hanover County residents.”

Now, New Hanover County, NHRMC and Novant Health will begin the closing process which includes presenting the approved, final executed agreement to the Attorney General’s Office for review. The closing process is expected to take several months, with a closing expected in the first half of 2021.

Opponents of the sale hope AG Josh Stein will block the sale, but Olson-Boseman says she has no doubts the sale will go through.

Click here to watch Monday’s meeting.