With nothing less than its very future up for public debate, 2020 already was stacking up as the most momentous year for New Hanover Regional Medical Center since 1967, when seven infants became the first patients at the new county-owned hospital.
Not long after its first meeting in 2019, the 21-member Partnership Advisory Group – the special committee tasked with exploring future options and a possible sale of the county-owned health network – saw its work disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Beyond stalling the process and shifting deliberations to a virtual world, the unprecedented challenges of the coronavirus outbreak provided real-time lessons in the vulnerability of even a well-positioned institution such as NHRMC.
Interviews with key people involved in exploring NHRMC’s future found that the impact of the pandemic ultimately helped influence the decision to recommend selling the 7,000-employee system to Novant Health, a Winston-Salem based private, not-for-profit corporation. The NHRMC Board of Trustees and the New Hanover County Commissioners agreed, and signed off on the deal in October.
If the $5 billion deal passes regulatory scrutiny and closes – expected to take place in early 2021 – it will be governed by a private board that appoints its new members.
As the sale exploration dominated the news headlines, COVID-19 remained the biggest challenge for NHRMC. Like other health care facilities, NHRMC struggled to beef up supplies of personal protective equipment and implement social-distancing, screening and other protocols. As a regional health-care facility, NHRMC had to prepare not only for the 230,000 people in New Hanover County, but for six surrounding counties, as well.
After a suspension of elective surgical procedures in the early months of the pandemic, NHRMC regained some normalcy, while, at the same time, remaining prepared for a possible surge in cases of the virus.
Well before the pandemic surfaced locally, a new patient tower was going up at the main campus, on 17th Street. The addition is partially open, and NHRMC spokesman Julian March said some of its 108 beds are being used for general medical care “as a more definitive direction is determined for the future.”
NHRMC also filed a Certificate of Need request with the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services in 2020, seeking approval for a 66-bed hospital in the rapidly growing Scotts Hill area in coastal Pender County.
NHRMC also opened an outpatient lab location in Leland and expanded services offered in Brunswick County with the opening of NHRMC Cancer Services in Leland.
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