Public Hearing and City Council Meeting Bring More Discussion, Understanding of NHRMC Future

NHRMC’s Future was the topic of conversation at two public meetings on Tuesday, October 15. The first was a three-hour public hearing hosted by New Hanover County Commissioners to gain community feedback on the exploration of options and priorities for NHRMC. In a different session, members of the Wilmington City Council considered a resolution calling for Commissioners to “table” the issuance of a request for proposals. They ultimately backed off that language, after hearing the process going forward is neither pre-determined nor likely to take less than a year.

Members of the NHRMC Board of Trustees spoke at both events. Jason Thompson, Jerome Fennell and Barb Biehner represented the board. They addressed the trustees’ involvement in the exploration process, the timeline, and priorities for evaluating options.

The NHRMC Board of Trustees has 17 members, the majority appointed by New Hanover County Commissioners, with additional representation from the New Hanover Regional Medical Center Medical Staff and Pender Memorial Hospital. Through their service on the board they have been involved in the development of NHRMC’s strategic plan and organizational goals and will be actively engaged in the process to evaluate and recommend a path forward.

Five members of the NHRMC Board of Trustees are part of the 21-member Partnership Advisory Group set up to evaluate options for NHRMC and make a recommendation to the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners. Additionally, the full Board of Trustees has decided to meet more frequently than the standard bi-monthly schedule to allow additional involvement in the process.

“We recognize the magnitude of this decision and want to assure the citizens of this community, and the entire region, that it will get the thorough evaluation it deserves,” said Thompson, who will assume the role of Chair of the Board of Trustees on Tuesday, October 22, and is one of the board members on the Partnership Advisory Group.

Other members of the Partnership Advisory Group include five physicians chosen by the Medical Staff and nine community representatives chosen by NHRMC President and CEO John Gizdic and New Hanover County Manager Chris Coudriet to represent different opinions and perspectives.

During the public hearing, New Hanover County Commission Chairman Jonathan Barfield outlined the expected timeline for the exploration process. He explained that the Request for Proposals (RFP) is expected to go out no sooner than December, after the advisory group spends time working to understand the healthcare industry and NHRMC’s challenges and opportunities. Potential partners would have at least 60 days to respond to the RFP, so it will likely be February or March before proposals are received. While waiting for the proposals to come back, the Advisory Group will be evaluating what it would mean for NHRMC if it were to remain independent and county owned. This will serve as the baseline to understand whether a partner would help NHRMC accelerate or enhance what it could do on its own.

The proposals that come back will be shared on the public NHRMCfuture.org website for the community to see and another public hearing will be held on the proposals. If the Partnership Advisory Group, the NHRMC Board of Trustees and the New Hanover County Commissioners agree to move forward, several more months of exploration and due diligence will occur before a final proposal is brought to Commissioners for a vote that would allow a change in ownership, affiliation or structure.  (Learn more about Steps to Decision here: https://nhrmcfuture.org/next-steps/)

During the county’s public hearing, several residents spoke to their appreciation for NHRMC as it is now and their worry that a sale would change things. Some members of the NHRMC team also addressed commissioners.

Hannah Gilmore, a MSW student at UNCW doing her clinical field work at NHRMC, said she felt fortunate to be able to do her field work at NHRMC and hoped that opportunity would continue under any potential new arrangement. “If the hospital is to sell, I would like to see that organization maintain a commitment to hosting students in a supportive environment,” said Gilmore.

NHRMC Physician Group Training Coordinator Allie Reid told commissioners she felt compelled to come in to speak after watching the meeting streaming online from home. “I felt like I needed to come here,” said Reid, who spoke to the transparency of the discussion and rationale for considering options. “All the reasons make sense to me and I hope everyone can go into this with an open mind. We are part of so many great initiatives…if we had more resources, we could really provide even better care. I believe that. I have full faith in our leadership and I’m not worried.”

While NHRMC is county owned and the Wilmington City Council has no role in the exploration of options for NHRMC, some council members introduced a resolution that called for commissioners to table sending out a request for proposals to allow more time for the public to understand the healthcare industry and NHRMC’s challenges. The original resolution asked for that process to wait at least a year.

After members of the NHRMC Board of Trustees addressed the timeline and process, council member Paul Lawler said he felt a lot better it. He also expressed appreciation for the stated commitment to ongoing education and work in the community. “NHRMC has been doing a very, very good job helping us improve our health and we want that to continue,” said Lawler.

Council member Charlie Rivenbark objected to the City Council passing resolutions on matters outside their jurisdiction. A change to the resolution to remove the language to “table” the process passed 5-to-1 with Rivenbark as the lone dissenter. Council members concluded by expressing their appreciation for the opportunity to learn more and the commitment to thoroughly evaluating a full range of options.

The Partnership Advisory Group will begin meeting in late October or early November.