Opponents to the deal to sell New Hanover Regional Medical Center filed a lawsuit Tuesday, attempting to block a contract approval.
The Save Our Hospital group filed the complaint in New Hanover County Superior Court against New Hanover County Regional Medical Center, New Hanover County and New Hanover County Board of Commissioners, requesting that public records relating to the potential sale of the county-owned hospital to Winston-Salem-based Novant Health be released.
The complaint argues that as a public hospital, NHRMC is subject to the state’s public records and open meetings laws. It states that Save Our Hospital’s attorney Alex Hall sent public records requests to hospital officials several times, which they say were not fulfilled.
The filing also questions how a letter of intent was reached with Novant Health, arguing that the document was “based on closed door meetings and private discussions among certain New Hanover County Commissioners, Novant representatives and representatives of NHRMC, where other Commissioners were precluded from said meetings and discussions,” the complaint stated.
"We strongly disagree with the claims asserted in the lawsuit and look forward to addressing them with the Court," Carolyn Fisher, the hospital's director of marketing and public relations, said in a statement Tuesday. She said that New Hanover Regional has complied with public records request laws.
Fisher said that NHRMC "has responded promptly to multiple requests for public documents throughout the partnership exploration from Save Our Hospital, elected officials and members of the media. We have consistently responded to each of these requests as quickly and openly as possible."
Fisher said that the fourth and latest request from Save Our Hospital's attorney was dated Aug. 11 and "calls for hundreds of thousands of pages of documents and emails and will take some time to complete."
New Hanover County officials said Tuesday that they were aware of the suit.
“At this time, we cannot share any comment related to the lawsuit because it is pending litigation,” said Jessica Loeper, chief communications officer for the county.
“The public is encouraged to continue remaining engaged in this process to explore and evaluate opportunities for NHRMC,” she said, adding that a public hearing takes place
Monday at 5 p.m. at the county's historic courthouse and streamed online, and comments can be submitted ahead of time.
On Friday, county and hospital officials released documents about the agreement with Novant that NHRMC trustees and county commissioners were expected to vote on soon. Those documents can be found at nhrmcfuture.org
“We don’t necessarily disagree with the idea of New Hanover County getting out of the hospital business. We also don’t necessarily disagree with a possible sale of the hospital,” Save Our Hospital President Gene Merritt said Tuesday. “Our problem is how the matter has been handled. The decision was made in private; everything else has been ‘window dressing.’ If the county had hired an independent consultant, not beholden to the hospital, to evaluate the possible options, and the process had been open and public, with the opportunity for debate and public conversation, the decision to sell would have been much more palatable.”
Merritt said that a court hearing with the parties is scheduled for Wednesday, via Zoom.