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Novant execs excited about New Hanover partnership: 'A real alignment of cultures'

Winston-Salem, N.C.-based Novant Health was one of three major health systems competing to expand in North Carolina by securing a deal to partner with or own New Hanover Regional Medical Center in Wilmington, N.C. Recently, Novant Health received the answer it was hoping for: It was selected as the medical center's ideal partner. 

The New Hanover County Board of Commissioners voted July 13 to give Novant Health the green light to sign a letter of intent to partner with the county-run hospital. The decision ended a nine-month process of searching for a suitor for the medical center. 

Becker's Hospital Review caught up with Carl Armato, president and CEO of Novant Health, and Pam Oliver, MD, executive vice president at Novant Health and president of Novant Health Physician Network, to discuss why Novant pursued a deal with the medical center, a timeline for the deal and what excites them the most about the partnership. 

Editor's Note: Responses were edited for length, style and clarity.

Question: What made Novant Health want to pursue a deal with New Hanover Regional Medical Center?

Carl Armato: Novant Health and New Hanover Medical Center are natural partners. We both share nonprofit missions, emphasize patient-centered care, community health improvement and promote equitable access to care. New Hanover Medical Center has really established itself as a top healthcare provider in its seven-county service area in Southeastern North Carolina with a strong financial performance and clinical outcomes. We have had great respect for New Hanover for years. Additionally, there was a decadelong growing partnership between [Novant Health's] Brunswick Medical Center and New Hanover Regional that has enhanced patient care, and we can build on that. Novant is confident that New Hanover Regional is a jewel and it can serve as a flagship at the core of a regional care network, and really become a hub for medication research and innovation. We want to become a first choice in the service area for physicians, students, researchers and patients. We see a great opportunity to come together as one organization. 

Q: What excites you the most about the partnership?

CA: There is a real alignment of cultures at the two organizations. When we look at mission, vision and value, we just see alignment about driving remarkable care and improving health in the communities we serve. That is what I get excited about. Looking at the original proposal elements, [New Hanover officials] were looking to improve access to care, boost value to the community, advance research, achieve health equity and find support and investment for its team members. Ultimately, New Hanover Regional was looking for a partner that could help it drive superior quality care in the community so people didn't have to travel and a partner that can ensure its financial security into the future. They also wanted local governance. When you look at those key proposal elements, Novant Health won hands down. The excitement comes that Novant aligned so well with those key proposal elements. We hit the sweet spot. 

Dr. Pam Oliver: Some of the areas in [New Hanover's service area] are in rural, remote locations. That means with the partnership, we have a lot of opportunity to improve care in the Southeastern part of the state, and that is exciting. I also find our collaboration with [Chapel Hill, N.C.-based] UNC Health and its medical school are exciting, as we will learn a lot through the academic partnership. 

Q: What does the timeline look like for the New Hanover Regional partnership moving forward?

CA: Novant Health already signed a letter of intent with New Hanover to create a next- generation regional network. The letter of intent is 42 pages. We put a lot of detail into it. Now we enter a period of due diligence, putting together the definitive agreement and regulatory approval. We expect the partnership to be finalized soon. We anticipate the final round of approvals, including a vote from the Partnership Advisory Group, both boards and the New Hanover County Commissioners soon. We are committed to quickly moving this partnership forward so we can improve access to healthcare.

Q: What about the timeline for the partnership with UNC Health and Novant Health?

CA: Novant Health reached out to New Hanover early in the process to understand more about its relationship with UNC Health and UNC Medicine. Once we understood how important that 40-year relationship has been, we reached out to UNC Health and its school of medicine with a goal of enhancing the existing relationship. We have already come to an agreement to build a health science campus in Wilmington, get more clinical trials, expand the level and scope of care for pediatric patients and grow the pipeline of healthcare professionals in the future. A definitive agreement will be coming soon. We've had some pretty unique meetings with UNC. In record time, about two weeks, we agreed on principles and how to expand healthcare capabilities in the region. 

PO: I've had the pleasure of co-leading the medical group team discussions about the UNC partnership. What allowed us to accomplish so much work in a short time is the amazing alignment [Novant] has with UNC Health. The UNC team is just as eager as we are to push this forward. The existing relationship they have with New Hanover Regional also helped. They know how the system works and know the best steps. We know this will move forward quickly.

Q: Are there any challenges you are expecting or currently experiencing?

CA: Change, for anyone, is challenging. ... We are making sure that we allow people to get to know Novant and our commitment to bringing healthcare closer to people. We are working to establish trust with community leaders and the local management team. We are also engaging them to help us define what remarkable healthcare means. Our goal is to let them help us meet value wins early on in the partnership.  

PO: Change is hard for most people. Gaining the trust of the community and leadership teams will be a big priority for Novant. We want them and need them to trust us. It has been a challenge and will continue to be, but that is very much expected.

Read more about the partnership here

Read a breakdown of the three finalists' proposals here


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