BY CASH MICHAELS OF THE WILMINGTON JOURNAL
There is growing community concern about the possible sale of New Hanover Regional Medical Center (NHRMC) to a private company after the NHC County Commissioners Monday approved “an intent to sell” resolution to officially start the process of at least exploring its options.
If such a sale were to occur, critics of the sale say, the quality of care will diminish in favor of maximizing profits, and that would be disastrous for the seven county region that NHRMC currently serves.
One of the most concerned is State Senator Harper Peterson, and in a Sept. 16, 2019 complaint to the NC Attorney General’s Office against the county commission board, Peterson alleges that “…their failure to fully inform and openly engage the citizens of New Hanover County in the decision-making process regarding the potential sale of the publicly owned hospital.”
In his complaint,Peterson makes clear that NHMRC is a “charitable nonprofit corporation that is publicly held by the citizens (taxpayers) of New Hanover.”
The county commissioners hold the responsibility of appointing members to NHMRC’s Board of Trustees.
In his complaint, despite denials by county officials that they are actively seeking to sell the hospital, approving the resolution to allow the county to issue an RFP, or “Request for Proposal,” from private entities interested in purchasing the hospital, whose estimated value could go as high as $1 billion, according to published reports.
County officials admit that a possible sale could pump hundreds of millions of dollars into New Hanover to help improve schools and provide for other needs.
Peterson says that under State statute and per the guidelines outlined, “…a sale could be considered and consummated within 90 days at the absolute and sole discretion of the NHC Commission.”
Peterson cites concerns by “hundreds of citizens” that “the process is being rushed.” He also notes that certain commissioners “…have publicly expressed a desire to sell…” the hospital, as well as other troubling indicators.
“These actions lead me to believe that a deal is already in the works and that a prospective buyer(s) could potentially dictate the terms of a sale agreement. This will not be in the best interest of the seven (7) counties that NHRMC serves, nor will it be in the best interest of the over 7,000 employees of the hospital, and certainly not in the best interest of the scores of nonprofit community health service groups that work with, and supplement, the hospital’s mission,” Sen. Peterson wrote in his complaint.
However, Peterson goes further. He also alleges that “there is NO clear legal record of what entity, NHC or NHRMC, actually owns the multiple properties, buildings, equipment, assets, etc., comprising NHRMC. This determination is of paramount importance, as state law…specifically directs how, and by whom, proceeds from a potential sale or lease of NHMRC will be handled…”
“NHC has publicly stated that any proceeds from a sale could be used for ANY purpose it feels appropriate, health related or not,” he continued. “I interpret the law quite differently, whereby “any distribution of assets shall be to a tax exempt organization whose purposes are consistent with the purposes of the existing corporation.”
“This has led me to believe that the NHC Commission has NOT done their due diligence, specifically what properties they own and what properties NHRMC owns, what are the tax and market values of all the NHRMC “campus” properties, what other types of buyers for profit, NFP, operating profiles, terms and conditions that would be desirable, etc., that will be included in an RFP,” Sen. Peterson further alleges. “I also believe that NHC has misinterpreted State statute requirements regarding any and all proceeds from a sale and that this will only complicate this initiative.”
Peterson continued, “There is no record of a public discussion or decision by the NHC Commission to consider a matter of such enormous consequence; the potential sale of NHRMC, no record of directing the County Manager to spearhead this initiative, no record of directing the County Manager to so closely partner with NHRMC’s CEO to manage and message this initiative and speculation on its far reaching consequences.”
“This has led me to believe that there may be malfeasance on the part of an individual(s) within New Hanover County Government. The County Manager serves at the NHC Commission’s pleasure and does NOT act independently. Someone, or somebody, is acting improperly and outside their legal bounds.”
Seeing need for an immediate investigation, Sen. Peterson asks North Carolina’s Attorney General’s Office to do a review of all actions, internal communications, outside contracts and contacts, and clandestine relationships by NHC and NHRMC relevant to this matter. Such a review prior to, and after, July 23 is warranted.
Going forward, your attention, oversight and corrective action, with regards to this extraordinary decision, which our community is presently considering, is needed NOW!
NHC NAACP president, Deborah Dicks Maxwell tells The Journal, “We do not like the sale at all. Not enough transparency [has been] in the process.”