New Hanover Regional Medical Center’s former head on Friday defended the hospital system after a challenging summer, pointing to larger industry pressures instead of the sale to Novant Health as the reasons behind staffing and patient waiting time issues.
John Gizdic, NHRMC’s former president and CEO and now executive vice president with Novant Health, said shortages in both workers and supplies as well as inflation are areas that have impacted the local hospital system, two years into the pandemic.
“I firmly believe that NHRMC would be in worse shape today without our partnership with Novant Health,” Gizdic said during a talk with local media Friday afternoon. “The health care industry has changed dramatically the past few years.”
Winston-Salem-based Novant Health bought NHRMC for nearly $2 billion – as well as making other commitments for capital and services expansions, which are still in the works. The sale closed in February 2021.
The system, now called Novant Health-New Hanover Regional Medical Center, has been the subject of increased patient complaints this summer about wait times and service availability. In July, the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services informed the hospital that it was at risk of losing Medicare funding because of alleged issues with services and staffing unless improvements were made. Last month, CMS officials notified current hospital president Shelbourn Stevens that Novant Health NHRMC was again in compliance with the agency’s conditions of participation.
This summer, CMS has sent immediate jeopardy designation warnings to other North Carolina hospitals, including UNC hospital.
“The model, the situation we find ourselves in is not sustainable. That’s the exact situation we talked about a few years ago when we started looking for a partner [to acquire the local health system]. It just came sooner than any of us expected,” Gizdic said.
Staffing has been a major issue, and Winston-Salem-based Novant Health has discussed how to balance reliance on travel nurses to meet patient demand with the difference in pay.
Novant Health NHRMC now has more than 300 traveling nurses, the most the local hospital has ever had, Gizdic said Friday.
“At the same time …. that is at a cost that is three to four times what we pay a staff nurse that works in the organization, and ultimately that is not sustainable in the long term,” he said.
Other recent efforts to ramp up nursing numbers have included recruiting over 200 “experienced nurses and new graduates,” Gizdic said.
The hospital system also launched a yearlong nurse residency program and added more certified nursing assistants and, Gizdic said, created a new care team role of care associate.
Over Labor Day weekend, Novant Health NHRMC’s emergency department average wait time was 34 minutes, below the national average of 145 minutes, a hospital spokesperson said after the media briefing.
As of Friday, the spokesperson said, the hospital had less than 25 beds closed due to staffing.
Gizdic, who sits on the N.C. Healthcare Association’s board, said the industry discussions extend beyond the area.
“As I understand it there’s not a hospital in North Carolina that is making money this year, not one,” he said. “That’s not sustainable. And health care and the health of our community is way too important to make political or to just wait and see if it works out.”