New Hanover County has evolved and changed over time, and this evolution has resulted in a region with great growth, a proud (though complicated) history, and nearly limitless potential. To realize this future, however, we should embrace the changes taking place around us. More importantly, we must stay ahead of these changes and dictate our own terms. This is especially critical when it comes to the future of one of our most valuable assets, New Hanover Regional Medical Center (NHRMC).
The Wilmington of the 1960s that gave birth to our current medical center was a very different place from where we find ourselves today. The Atlantic Coastline Railroad – our largest employer – had just left for Florida, civil rights were changing the cultural landscape, the Committee of 100 was established to bring in new industries, and our first suburban mall – Hanover Center – began a business exodus from downtown. During this maelstrom of cultural and economic change, NHRMC was born.
When the hospital opened in 1967, it was a single building serving a diverse population of under 100,000 people. Wilmington, though one of the largest economies in North Carolina, was still a small coastal town. My father and uncles, all architects, were involved in NHRMC’s design and construction from the earliest stages of planning, under the leadership of Seymour Alper and other visionary civil servants.
Since the midcentury era, however, our small coastal town has grown exponentially, and the healthcare landscape has changed alongside this growth. Our southern charm, our coastal culture, and our steadfast values endure, but our needs as a region in 2019 are fundamentally different from those of the 1960s.
NHRMC has evolved over the years to provide expanded capacity and world-class healthcare to the area, and now serves a seven-county region with multiple hospitals, outpatient facilities, specialty clinics, and emergency/urgent care services. NHRMC is known for its forward-thinking approaches to wellness and prevention as well as primary care, advanced specialty care, trauma, and emergency services. NHRMC estimates that it will need an additional $1.5 billion in funding for construction and expansion to meet the needs of a growing population. As a public hospital which does not rely on taxpayer funding, NHRMC must explore innovative, creative strategies to address these imminent facilities and programming needs in order to best serve our region.
On September 3, the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners will meet to consider whether the time is right to explore new ownership opportunities for NHRMC. The sale of the medical center to a major healthcare system with significant resources could have a transformative effect, not only on NHRMC but on the entire region. New ownership could generate substantial facilities investments, from vertical construction to specialty clinics to additional outpatient programs, expanding capacity and providing better access to healthcare. More space and expanded programs translate directly into a healthier population through better coordinated care models, better access and equity for treatment and wellness, and long-term economic sustainability. Further, NHRMC is the largest employer in the area; expanded capacity translates to job growth as well as better access to care.
NHRMC is in an enviable position to capitalize on its phenomenal success and growth through potential new ownership opportunities. The hospital is in excellent financial and operational shape and is should garner interest from a number of potential large systems with the expertise and resources to advance healthcare delivery for all of our constituents. It is time to explore new ownership possibilities for NHRMC and potential mutual success on three fronts: a huge win for healthcare delivery in the region, an attractive investment for a major healthcare system interested in expansion into our thriving regional market, and a substantial injection of cash for New Hanover County that could be reinvested in infrastructure, education, tax reductions, or other county priorities which would best serve its residents.
I support the Commissioners’ exploration of a new future for NHRMC which comes with the potential for significant investment in the health of our region and our regional economy. Change is hard, but as leaders of our community, we must consider the future just as men like my father and Seymour Alper did over 50 years ago. Please join me in encouraging our New Hanover County Board of Commissioners to approve the “Resolution of Intent to Sell” on September 3, which will allow our county and hospital leaders to consider the best long-term options for NHRMC and our region.
Chris Boney is chief relationships officer for regional architecture firm LS3P. He has served as chairman of the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce board, chairman of the Wilmington Planning Commission and chairman of the Battleship North Carolina board among other local positions.
To submit opinion pieces or letters to the editor as part of the discussion about issues surrounding the potential sale of NHRMC, contact [email protected].