Reflecting on Change

July 29, 2019
John for CL

When I look back, the past 15 years have been some of the most fulfilling years of my life. They’re filled with memories of my kids growing up, the friendships my wife and I have formed, and the incredibly satisfying work we have done at New Hanover Regional Medical Center. Wilmington has been the setting and backdrop for countless moments we’ll remember and cherish.

New Hanover Regional Medical Center drew us here. I came for the opportunity to help grow the system to serve more people and my wife was excited to move closer to family.  We packed up our things, and we came with our young boys, ready for our lives to follow a new path.

Since that time, my family has embraced all southeastern North Carolina has to offer and the toddlers we brought to Wilmington are now young men, ready for their own big change as they get ready to head to college.

New Hanover Regional Medical Center, meanwhile, has grown substantially.  We have added physician practices, more outpatient settings and a depth and breadth of services that mean local residents don’t need to travel outside the region for exceptional care.  I can’t help but feel proud when I reflect on that growth.

Even more rewarding, though, is what I have seen evolve in the people who are a part of this system:  The staff, physicians, clinical providers, volunteers and donors, who, with extraordinary compassion and dedication, come together to do everything possible for our patients, their families, and the entire community. They are the heart of this organization. They have made it what it is and will be the force that guides our future.

As we come to a crossroads in contemplating what’s next for New Hanover Regional Medical Center, I feel the same conflicted emotions many in our organization and community have expressed.  We have a great system and amazing team.  It’s incredibly hard, when you like the way things are, to consider making a change.

But sometimes change is exactly what you need to keep what’s most important to you.

What’s most important to us is preserving the high-quality care, compassionate service, and incredible culture that has earned NHRMC national recognition. This cannot change.

Yet, the world around us is changing, and what has worked for us in the past, may not be what’s needed to advance our values in the future.

This is why we are working with New Hanover County to pose the question: Is it time to consider a new ownership structure for New Hanover Regional Medical Center?  NHRMC has been county owned for 52 years. It’s the largest county-owned system in the country operating without local tax support.

Because of the market, and adjustments we have been making through the years, we have been self-sustaining and able to grow to serve our neighbors.

As we look ahead, we see our region’s population continuing to expand. We see communities that need help to thrive and be well, overcoming some of the biggest barriers to good health, including poverty, housing, food and education.  We see changes in the industry that call on us to do things differently.

We can do these things. We can be even better than we are. But we need to be willing to consider different ways to do them. New Hanover County Commissioners will vote September 3 on whether to move forward with exploring if a larger healthcare system could help infuse resources into our community and NHRMC. It’s a vote to ask the question, not a commitment to make a change. If the vote is approved and other systems make a compelling case they can accelerate the changes we want to see while preserving all we love about NHRMC, then commissioners will decide whether the time is right to pursue a new partnership. 

Change in life is inevitable. When you embrace it and influence it, it can be empowering and make great things possible. When I consider the history of NHRMC, there are many moments of change that met with resistance at the time, but ultimately made us stronger. The founding of the hospital, itself, was controversial. Over the years, the addition of EMS, purchase of Cape Fear Hospital, and partnership with Pender Memorial Hospital, were all moves that were questioned at the time, but were clearly the right thing to do.

This summer has me thinking a lot about change. At home, my wife and I are experiencing all the emotions parents feel when confronted with the reality that the child-raising part of our lives is nearing its end.  This is what we have been working toward.  We want our sons to go to college and find their own paths forward. Still, it’s not easy.

Likewise, as the president and CEO of New Hanover Regional Medical Center, I want what’s best for the future of the organization and its mission in serving the community.  While it might be easier to stay the current course, considering change to preserve what’s most important to us is the right thing to do.

I hope you’ll join me in opening your minds to consider all possibilities for the future.  Together, we can make it healthier and better for everyone. We just need to find the right path forward.

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