By Emily Featherston | October 5, 2020 at 4:56 PM EDT – Updated October 5 at 11:32 PM
WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – Fourteen months after an announcement that New Hanover Regional Medical Center (NHRMC) could be changing hands, the agreement has been finalized — the community hospital has been sold to Novant Health.
The purchase agreement with the healthcare system for New Hanover County’s largest employer was approved by the county commission at their meeting Monday afternoon.
It was not a unanimous decision — the vote was 4-1 in favor with Commissioner Rob Zapple voting against the agreement, citing concerns with the operation of the Community Endowment fund.
Also approved was the termination of NHRMC’s lease with the county, and the bylaws of the new community foundation to manage the proceeds.
Vice-Chair Pat Kusek moved to approve the resolution accepting the agreement, termination of lease and bylaws of the new foundation. She thanked the county staff and administration for the work they have done over the last year and knows she is making the right decision.
Commissioner Jonathan Barfield seconded the motion. He said his goal was to make informed decisions based on facts, and he moved the process forward to get all the facts.
Commissioner Woody White said this has been a difficult time for those in elected office, especially when making difficult decisions
“Nothing worth doing is easy. It’s a fact of life,” he said and added he believes the county has done everything it could to make this an open, community-focused, bipartisan process.
White said he thinks the behavioral/mental health fund coming out of this will be huge for the community and added: “Any community in this world would kill to have this fund for what it’s going to do.”
NHC Commission Chair Julia Olson-Boseman noted the importance of the exploration process and expressed gratitude to the NHRMC Board of Trustees and members of the Partnership Advisory Group (PAG). She said the documents under consideration had been vetted thoroughly and by joining the hospital with Novant, the county is “securing healthcare for generations to come.”
Early in the meeting, Commissioner Rob Zapple proposed a motion to separate the issue of the purchase agreement from the bylaws of the new foundation. No discussion was permitted and the motion failed by a 3-2 vote.
Co-Chairs of the PAG, Barb Biehner and Spence Broadhurst, spoke in favor of the partnership and presented the findings of the Sentiments Survey commissioned by Novant Health that showed 72 % of the 1000 respondents favored the deal or were neutral. The PAG recommended unanimously that the Commissioners move forward with the sale as proposed.
Broadhurst was one of the five people nominated by the county for the new Foundation board, which also includes Dr. Virginia Adams, Hannah Gage, Stedman Stevens and Shannon Winslow.
NHRMC President & CEO John Gizdic also spoke in favor of the agreement saying, “What got NHRMC through the last 50 years will not be enough to get us through the next 50 years.”
After talking at length with Novant Health CEO Carl Armato last week, as well as with hospital leadership and others involved, Commissioner Zapple said Armato gave him answers to some of his questions and believes the partnership will bring benefits to the community.
However, he believes the foundation should be required to follow the open meetings law, so that the business is done in public. He says the handling of $1.25 billion in public dollars needs to be done in the public eye and says this would make the foundation “stronger.” Zapple referenced Attorney General Josh Stein’s review of the transaction saying, “We can only hope that the attorney general is listening, and he will move swiftly.”
New Hanover County officials say the county, NHRMC, and Novant will now begin the closing process which includes presenting the final executed agreement to the Attorney General’s office for review.
Attorney General Josh Stein today released the following statement about the proposed sale of New Hanover Regional Medical Center:
“My office will review this transaction to ensure compliance with the standards set by North Carolina law. My office has been engaged with all the relevant parties and is awaiting more information. Our review will begin once we have full information. Already, I have heard from many local community leaders about this transaction. Hearing from community members helps inform my review. I urge concerned members of the community to share their thoughts and concerns with my office via email@example.com.”
When asked, Boseman said she does not have any concern about Stein’s review of the deal.
County officials estimate the sale will close by early 2021.
Copyright 2020 WECT. All rights reserved.