NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC - Citing its potential to dramatically improve the region’s health, members of the citizen group evaluating options for New Hanover Regional Medical Center (NHRMC) have voted unanimously to recommend a partnership with Novant Health. The selection of Novant Health means NHRMC would also benefit from an expanded relationship with UNC Health and the UNC School of Medicine. UNC Health has an agreement with Novant Health to expand the existing medical education and pediatric specialty services in Southeastern North Carolina if NHRMC becomes part of the Novant Health system.
“This is a tremendous opportunity to have these exceptional healthcare systems working with NHRMC to grow the depth, quality, affordability, and availability of healthcare services in our region,” said Barb Biehner, co-chair of the Partnership Advisory Group. “Their combined commitment would enable our healthcare system to meet the needs of our growing population and make a real difference in the quality of life here.”
The 21-member Partnership Advisory Group has been meeting since October 2019. Through the course of their meetings, they have reviewed the challenges NHRMC faces in growing to serve the region and adapt to changes in the healthcare industry. NHRMC is the largest county-owned health system in the country to receive no local tax support and has limited flexibility and resources to expand and make changes needed to best provide care in the changing healthcare environment.
The Partnership Advisory Group developed and issued a request for partnership proposals in January and received six responses in March. Respondents included Atrium Health, Bon Secours/Mercy Health, Duke Health, HCA Healthcare, Novant Health, and UNC Health.
An initial evaluation led to a narrowed focus on offers from Atrium Health, Duke Health, and Novant Health as primary partners. Advisory Group members conducted virtual and in-person site visits with the finalists and evaluated the three proposals against each other as well as against the options to remain independent or change governance structure.
At their meeting June 18, members of the Advisory Group were unanimous in support of moving ahead with a partner, with each person speaking to how they had arrived at the decision. Many acknowledged being against the idea of selling when they started the process, then changing their minds as they learned more and saw how much could be gained without giving up significant local control. (Meeting recordings and presentations are available on www.nhrmcfuture.org)
Novant Health’s Culture and Commitments Seen as Directly Aligned with NHRMC; Relationship Strengthens Partnership with UNC Health & School of Medicine
“Throughout each of our visits and every part of our evaluation, we have been most impressed with Novant Health’s culture,” said Spence Broadhurst, Partnership Advisory Group co-chair. “We see Novant Health as an organization deeply committed to their patients, communities and team members. A partnership with Novant Health could preserve all we value about NHRMC and help it do even more for the people of this region.”
Novant Health’s partnership proposal includes an offer to purchase NHRMC from New Hanover County for approximately $2 billion and invest more than $2.5 billion in capital improvements and new services in the area. Novant Health’s proposal involves establishing a regional system hub in Wilmington similar to existing hubs in Winston Salem and Charlotte.
Additionally, Novant Health and UNC Health have confirmed that if NHRMC is brought into the Novant Health system, they will work together to expand the Wilmington branch campus of the UNC School of Medicine, expand the rural pipeline for students wishing to work in rural NC, establish a new UNC Health Sciences campus based out of the South Eastern Area Health Education Center, develop a children’s clinical service-line partnership with UNC Children’s, and develop research clinical trials and population health studies programs.
“The population in this region is growing quickly and we need more services to ensure everyone has access to the best care when they need it,” said Bill Cameron, vice co-chair of the Advisory Group. “Novant Health and UNC Health have committed to working together to provide those services and they have the ability to do that. They have the resources, including the data systems and infrastructure, to offer more convenient, cost-effective options that will improve quality of care and make it more affordable.”
Advisory Group members say the ability to tap into the organizations’ expertise in improving health by identifying and eliminating disparities in care is another compelling reason for the choice.
“Novant Health is a national leader in health equity and has a proven ability to improve health for members of the community who have significant barriers to being well,” said Joseph Pino, MD, vice co-chair of the group. “Lack of healthy food, safe housing, and reliable transportation often stand in the way of a patient’s recovery from illness. NHRMC has programs to address these issues for some, but Novant Health has the resources to do more on a much larger scale. Leveraging the strengths of Novant Health and NHRMC with UNC Health’s commitment to train and retain our next generation of healthcare providers to serve all North Carolinians, particularly those living in rural and underserved areas, would be transformative.”
NHRMC President and CEO John Gizdic joined the group in expressing support for moving forward with negotiations to partner with Novant. Gizdic said the organizations’ visions for the future are aligned and Novant Health’s dedication to employees and providers appears strong.
“Throughout this process I have been focused on what is best for our team, because they have made NHRMC all it is and they are the people who will help ensure we continue to be great in the future,” said Gizdic. “With Novant Health, we see an organization that has high employee and provider engagement and an impressive record of building a diverse and extraordinary team. We will work with them to protect our staff from negative changes to their jobs and compensation and provide new opportunities to grow and thrive in their careers.”
Novant Health has committed to retaining staff and growing the number of jobs in the region through expanded services and support for recruitment efforts.
The Partnership Advisory Group’s unanimous vote on July 2 to recommend a partnership with Novant Health and UNC Health will be presented to the NHRMC Board of Trustees on July 7 and the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners on July 13. At these meetings, the boards will decide whether to move forward with the Advisory Group’s recommendation and negotiate a definitive agreement. If the Board of Trustees and Board of Commissioners vote to move forward with the Partnership Advisory Group’s recommendation in July, there will be multiple other steps and considerations over the coming months and the public will continue to be kept informed.
“The citizens of the Partnership Advisory Group have come to a unanimous decision after nine months of research, thorough questions, and a level of understanding about our current and complicated healthcare system,” said Chris Coudriet, New Hanover County Manager. “They have dedicated an extraordinary amount of time to learning, studying, and considering all of the options before us with the ultimate desire to make the right recommendation for their friends, family and neighbors. Their opinion is invaluable and their commitment to our community is admirable. We also want to thank the healthcare systems that submitted proposals and worked with us through this process.”
Community Q&A on Wednesday, July 8
Members of the Advisory Group will hold a Facebook Live Question and Answer Session with the community on Wednesday, July 8 at 5:30 p.m. This session will be streamed live on the county’s Facebook page, and the community will be able to ask questions of the advisory group’s members through the Facebook comments of the live stream. It will also be available to watch live on NHCTV.com and on NHCTV’s cable stations: Spectrum channel 13 and Charter channel 5.
For more information, including proposals, video presentations and meeting minutes, visit NHRMCfuture.org.