By WECT Staff | September 22, 2020 at 5:57 PM EDT – Updated September 22 at 6:15 PM
WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – A group that has opposed the sale of New Hanover Regional Medical Center to Novant Health continues to fight the move and has now taken the matter to the courts, specifically pertaining to records associated with the deal and the process leading up to it.
Save Our Hospital, Inc. filed a complaint in New Hanover County Superior Court Tuesday asking the court to compel New Hanover Regional Medical Center and New Hanover County to release all documents related to the sale of the hospital, which the organization claims are public record.
The complaint also asks the court to prohibit New Hanover County and NHRMC from entering into a contract to sell the county-owned hospital system until those records are produced and have been viewed by the public.
Note: Read the complaint in its entirety along with a full response from the hospital at the bottom of this article.
“Irreparable harm to [Save Our Hospital], all taxpayers of [New Hanover County], and all patients and healthcare employees of [NHRMC] will result if the [New Hanover County Board of Commissioners] enters into a contract of sale…without the citizens of New Hanover County first being allowed to review the public records sought in this action,” the complaint stated.
The complaint alleges that NHRMC CEO John Gizdic, County Manager Chris Coudriet, and unnamed members of the county board of commissioners “began concocting a plan to sell NHRMC” as early as Feb. 2019.
“This plan to sell the hospital was not communicated to all of the members of the board of commissioners at the time was not communicated to members of the general public,” the complaint stated.
The complaint also alleges that Rod Andrews, a member of the NHRMC Board of Trustees, did not find out about the proposed sale until news reports in July 2019.
Beginning in Nov. 2019, the complaint states, Alex Hall, the attorney for Save Our Hospital, began sending public records requests to NHRMC for documents related to the sale of the hospital. Hall also allegedly sent a letter on June 3 to NHRMC and the county, objecting to closed-door meetings complainants claim were in violation of North Carolina’s open meeting law.
Hall has sent public records requests as recently as Sept. 10, the complaint states, but “the defendants have refused to voluntarily produce the public records that have been requested by plaintiff on numerous occasions.”
“[NHRMC] has obstructed, through its attorneys, compliance with lawful requests for public records from the hospital on the basis that the records requested are voluminous, burdensome and will take ‘months’ to gather and provide. At no time has NHRMC objected to the public records requests on legal grounds,” the complaint stated.
NHRMC said in a response the hospital has fully complied with all state laws regarding transparency.
The complaint also alleges the New Hanover County has failed to provide any public records, stating that the county, through its attorney, “asked for unnecessary clarification” on the requested documents.
The complaint alleges that the county and NHRMC officials are intentionally seeking to withhold the requested public records until after the Sept. 28 meeting.
A New Hanover County spokesperson said the county is aware of the filing but cannot comment because of the ongoing litigation.
New Hanover Regional Medical Center sent a statement in response to the developments:
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.
WECT also reached out to Novant Health, which is not named as a defendant in the lawsuit, and a spokesperson asked reporters to contact NHRMC, as Novant has not yet seen the complaint.
Public records and transparency have been raised regarding the exploration process since the beginning.
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