NHRMC’s future: where we are and where we’re headed
By County Manger Chris Coudriet
The future of New Hanover Regional Medical Center (NHRMC) is a main topic of conversation throughout the community. I understand why – it is an incredible asset, provides high-quality health services, and is our region’s largest employer. All those reasons, and more, make the process we are embarking on incredibly important.
After the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners voted on September 16 to explore different ownership structures and partnership for NHRMC in light of the known and unknown changes coming in health care, we began the work of forming a Partnership Advisory Group (PAG) to help lead this process.
The advisory group is made up of nine community members, five physicians selected by NHRMC medical staff leadership, five members of NHRMC’s Board of Trustees selected by the trustees, and NHRMC President and CEO John Gizdic as well as myself. The 21 members are diverse in opinions, backgrounds, and professions; and I think they are an outstanding group who will offer a clear direction on behalf of our community on the appropriateness of any changes to the hospital’s current model. You can read their impressive bios here.
This group will be responsible for developing priorities for the hospital’s Request for Proposal (RFP), selecting a minimum of five health systems that will receive the RFP, evaluating the proposals received and examining the options for maintaining county ownership. After months of due diligence, they will then provide a recommendation on next steps to the Board of Commissioners and NHRMC Board of Trustees. A recommendation could include negotiating with one or more systems regarding proposals or pursuing other ways to support NHRMC as a county-owned hospital. We are going to look at every option available to us.
This process will likely take a year or more, and will include thorough research and open, public discussions. I encourage everyone in the community to continue to be engaged and informed, attend PAG meetings to hear the conversations (they are open to the public and our first one will be held on October 29 – view those details here), and attend the public hearings that will be held throughout this process to share your thoughts.
We want this process to be open, we want the community to trust that we have heard you – and this 21-member advisory group, along with the Trustees and Commissioners, will take the time that is needed to thoughtfully and thoroughly examine any and all options for our health system. We all want what is in the long-term best interest of the community and health care delivery for our citizens. And I believe this process will help answer if there is a better model or not, and how we achieve that.
The process going forward is neither pre-determined nor likely to take less than a year. The PAG has a lot of work to do and will have clearly defined goals. They will be supported by staff from the county and hospital with legal representation, and several consultants (one of which will be an outside financial advisor) will be part of the process.
At the first few meetings of the PAG, the members themselves will elect the group’s co-chairs and vice co-chairs, provide input on the financial advisor that should be selected, and learn about all that is happening in the healthcare industry and NHRMC’s current position and priorities. It’s important the PAG members make these decisions and have all of the information necessary as we move into this process.
The Request for Proposals will be one of the first things the PAG works on, developing it based on the public’s priorities as well as the vision of the hospital and county. I anticipate that to be completed and shared with the Trustees and Commissioners sometime in December. Potential partners would then have at least 60 days to respond to the RFP, so it will likely be February or March before proposals are received. While waiting for the proposals to come back, the advisory group will be evaluating what it would mean for NHRMC if it were to remain independent and county owned. This will serve as the baseline to understand whether a partner would help NHRMC accelerate or enhance what it could do on its own.
The proposals that come back will be shared at NHRMCfuture.org for the community to see and another public hearing will be held on the proposals. If the Partnership Advisory Group, Trustees and Commissioners all agree to move forward with one or more of the proposals, several more months of exploration and due diligence will occur before a final proposal is brought to Commissioners for a vote that would allow a change in ownership, affiliation or structure. If we get that far, any agreement would be shared publicly and a public hearing would take place for the community to comment.
I believe that over the coming months, the community will be able to see the work being done and the deliberate and thoughtful process that we are going through, as opposed to us just talking about. The advisory group is going to look at all options, all alternatives – and the public will be included in every step along the way.
I can’t thank the members of the advisory group enough for their willingness to serve and guide this important process. It is going to take a significant amount of time (likely more than a year), but they are willing and certainly able to help the hospital and county ensure the best outcome for healthcare in our community.