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OPINION, Bill Graham: County has time on NHRMC. Why rush?

By Bill Graham for StarNews Media

Posted Sep 1, 2019 at 1:39 PM

At the Greater Wilmington Business Journal’s Power Breakfast on Monday, New Hanover County Manager Chris Coudriet (as reported by the StarNews) said there is nothing magical about a Sept. 3 (now Sept. 16) vote and asked rhetorically, “what would 90 days buy us?”

Answer: It will buy time to restart a process to do what should have been done in the first place.

The only “request for proposals” that should go out would seek bids from the best health care consulting firms in the country. The justification for the magical $1 billion dollars was presented by NHRMC President and CEO John Gizdic as the amount NHRMC would need to invest in the next 10 years to keep pace with the needs of the region. So the RFP would seek advice on how to use NHRMC’s excellent balance sheet with $650 million in reserves, lots of valuable real estate, and forecast for $90 million in new earnings this year, to finance future growth and expansion.

The second question is how would the experts rank the many alternatives among types of health care partners Mr. Gizdic now points out that are out there? Not just profit or non-for-profit, but the way in which they are organized, do business, and might be a match worth exploring to strengthen our quality of care?

While the consultant work is in progress, the Partnership Advisory Group (called for in the intent-to-sell” resolution that is on the commissioners’ agenda for Sept. 16) would be appointed. That group, along with the general public, would receive the consultants briefings and report.

If financing is sought, the next RFP would go out to investment bankers with expertise in the health care industry. For example, many passive investors might be willing to buy up to a 49 percent stake of NHRMC for a half-billion dollars or more as an excellent investment. Real estate sale and lease back is also possible. Neither of these common transactions would relinquish any control or foreclose a partnership or sale.

Reserve drawdown is also an obvious option and all of these possibilities that have not even been discussed. All are better than a deal in which the wrong buyer prevails. As a StarNews editorial noted, this is an issue with literally “life and death” ramifications.

With an entire region opposed to the current process, the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners will forever regret a vote to sell on Sept. 16.

They have time. They should use it wisely.

William P. Graham is president and CEO of the Renaissance Wilmington Foundation, a nonprofit foundation focused exclusively on the future of the Wilmington area, based on research that distinguishes regions of the country that thrive.

(The opinions expressed are personal and not reviewed by RWF Board)

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