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Health Care

Delay Hospital Vote, Say NHRMC Medical Staff Members

By Vicky Janowski, posted Aug 15, 2019
Members of NHRMC’s Medical Staff have asked New Hanover County commissioners to hold off on an upcoming vote to explore the sale of the hospital, though a delay appears unlikely based on a majority of the board's reaction.

Commissioners are slated to vote Sept. 3 on a resolution that would clear the way for a request for proposals to be developed and sent out to see whether larger health systems would be interested in a deal. County and hospital officials have stressed since they first announced the idea July 23 that an RFP and the Sept. 3 vote does not commit to selling the county-owned hospital.
 
Still, members of the group that represents NHRMC’s medical staff are saying more time is needed for input.
 
A letter that the county received Tuesday asked for commissioners to meet with Medical Staff representatives “for an exchange of ideas and questions” about the RFP, preferably before Sept. 3.
 
“Further, by a majority vote of a quorum of the Medical Staff, I have also been asked to respectfully request a delay in the upcoming vote on September 3 for a period of up to 90 days,” the letter continued. It was signed by surgeon William Hope of behalf of the Medical Staff since he represents them as president.
 
The Medical Staff, which is made up of all those who have credentials to practice at the hospital, met last week. A majority of those who attended the meeting voted to make the request.
 
“The Medical Staff felt that further education of both the physicians and the community as to the ramifications of such a decision is necessary before such a step is taken,” the letter stated.
 
Hope was not available for comment Thursday morning. In a blog post on the hospital’s website, however, he wrote that he was open to learning whether a larger health care system could invest in more care options in the community as the area continues to grow than NHRMC can as a stand-alone, county-owned system can.
 
The state law that governs how the process should go requires advance public notice before the vote on the resolution. New Hanover County Manager Chris Coudriet pointed to that state statute Thursday.
 
“From a staff perspective, we will continue to proceed with the item on September 3, since it has already been noticed to the public in accordance with general statutes,” Coudriet said in a statement. “The agenda item is not a decision to sell – it is to authorize staff to send out a request for proposals and begin the research and exploration process. Any and all decisions, even a decision to delay, have and remain the responsibility of the Board of Commissioners.”

The board appears unlikely to do that. Asked about their response to the letter's request, commissioners Woody White, Julia Olson-Boseman and Pat Kusek on Thursday all said were not in favor of delaying, giving them the majority on the five-person board. Commissioners Rob Zapple said he was in favor of the requested delay. Jonathan Barfield Jr. did not immediately return messages for comment.
 
The county has scheduled public forums about the issue for Monday and Tuesday.

NHRMC President and CEO John Gizdic said having information from those who respond to the RFP would help with the discussion.
 
“We appreciate the medical staff’s involvement in discussions around what’s best for healthcare in this region. Members of the medical staff have helped make NHRMC what it is today and are critical to its future,” Gizdic said in a statement Thursday. “We support taking the time needed for them to fully explore and debate the pros and cons of different ownership structures. We believe it will be helpful for these discussions to include information from potential partners that would address our specific priorities.
 
“To get to a point of better understanding,” he added, “we would favor commissioners move ahead with the vote on September 3 with a commitment to give our medical community and others ample time and avenues to provide their input in the process and ultimate decision.”

The New Hanover-Pender County Medical Society also recently held a meeting so members could discuss the hospital issue and hear from Gizdic.
 
“Opinions from both practicing and retired physicians were heard,” Clarence Lafayette Wilson II, the group’s president and an OB/GYN physician, said in a statement Thursday about the Aug. 8 meeting. “While it is not within the Medical Society’s purview to regulate ownership of NHRMC, influence of our 152-year-old physician organization should be exerted to help determine the health and medical needs of the community.”
 
He said that comments from members were being collected “to understand all pertinent issues.”
 
“We look forward to continuing discussions with the hospital administration and New Hanover County leaders,” Wilson said. “There is no doubt that we all want what can best preserve what we have and make it even better.”
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