As a Wilmingtonian, physician leader, and health system executive, I admit I was shocked with the first news of the possibility of selling our health system. The hospital itself has been alive almost as long as I have (and yes, I intentionally referred to the hospital as “alive,” because we are a living part of this community). My first reaction was, like most I suspect, fear for the loss of something I hold dear. Then second, what does that loss mean for me? But as a community leader, very soon I realized how important it was to lean in to possibility. What opportunities might present themselves through the process of considering a sale? Beyond what I could think of, how do I help listen for the needs of the community so we explore the details of potential sale in ways that make us better? Whose needs are not being met now, and how do we meet them as a part of moving forward? As a result of this thinking, I very rapidly became optimistic about exploring potential opportunities for us to take our system to new levels of service for the community, whether inside or outside our four walls.
A few possibilities occurred to me, and while what is printed here in not an exhaustive list, I ask you to consider:
What if NHRMC found a resource that would lend their expertise as the hospital delivering the safest and highest quality care in the country? Would we want the safest hospital in the country when one of our friends, neighbors, or family members became sick?
What if NHRMC found a resource that had a track record of delivering the best outpatient care with the lowest need for hospital admission in the country? Would we want to bring that expertise here to help our local doctors create the processes to do the same for us?
What if NHRMC found a resource that allowed us to grow as rapidly as the region has, adding thousands of jobs with benefits for our citizens? Would we want those opportunities for our people?
What if NHRMC found a resource that has been able to extend the work we have already done with offering a living wage for our employees? Would we want that influx of economic prosperity to come to our community, to an even greater extent than we have been able to accomplish to date?
What if NHRMC found a resource that demonstrated a deep commitment to listening to the community, like we do, and who has the means to accelerate our efforts toward outstanding health? Would we want a healthier community, faster?
What if NHRMC found a resource that had a track recording of making deep investment in social determinants of health as a pathway to promote population health? Would we want an organization with those priorities, similar to ours but with more means, to be integrated into our community?
What if NHRMC found a resource that has demonstrated a track record of lowering the cost of care for a region? Would we want lower priced health care and lower insurance premiums?
What other “what if’s” do we need to consider? I am sure the list is long and the work will require much listening for the desired future. Once the picture is clear, we can go for it. These “what ifs” are made possible by county commissioners considering whether or not they should sell NHRMC. This exploration provides us the best possible opportunity to create a healthier and more equitable future in Southeastern North Carolina. During the process of asking this question, we are obligated to deeply examine the health needs and priorities of the community. Once priorities are identified and agreed upon, other organizations’ proposals can be weighed against our needs. If a good match is found, sale may be in order. If no offers match the need, now is not the time. The most valuable part of the process is to challenge ourselves to understand our health priorities. Do any of these “what ifs” resonate with you? What other “what ifs” would you propose?
Philip Brown, MD, is Chief Physician Executive for NHRMC.