Feb. 1 marked the two-year anniversary of New Hanover Regional Medical Center’s sale to Novant Health.
During a WilmingtonBiz Talk interview conducted live on Facebook by Business Journal editor Vicky Janowski on the day of that anniversary, two local Novant officials discussed how the merger has gone and what’s next for the health system.
Shelbourn Stevens, president of Novant Health’s coastal region and Novant Health New Hanover Regional Medical Center, and John Gizdic, executive vice president and chief business development officer for Novant, also discussed updates to staffing challenges in the health care industry.
Additionally, they answered questions about future health equity efforts in light of the January layoff of Philip Brown, who was Novant Health’s chief community impact officer but based in Wilm-ington. Brown, who was previously NHRMC’s chief executive physician before the sale, was among 50 people laid off in Novant Health’s system-wide employee base of 37,000.
The following are excerpts from that conversation.
ON THE PAST TWO YEARS:
: “Shelbourn, if you want to kick us off and tell us, you know, what the bird’s eye view of the past two years has been and where you guys are now in terms of that process?”
: “We’re in a good place today. I’m happy to report we’ve spent a lot of time investing in our team members over the last two years making sure that we can pay them competitive wages and keep them here in the market.
So we’ve invested over $65 million just in our team members’ salaries to make those competitive day one. We announced the living wage would go up to $15 an hour, and we just announced last week that we’re going to increase that to $17 an hour for our team members. … Just last year alone, we had over 13,000 patients that were impacted by our patient financial assistance program … so that’s a significant amount of patients that do not get a bill from us [if they meet the 300% above poverty level threshold] for the care that they receive …”
: “... Two years ago, we were talking about entering this from a position of strength and controlling our own destiny … our industry has experienced unprecedented challenges in the past two years.
That’s the exact future that we talked about during the partnership exploration, really talking about the challenges and the headwinds that our industry was going to face. Unfortunately, those challenges came a lot sooner than any of us anticipated.
And so really, I believe [we are] fortunate to be celebrating our second anniversary in partnership with Novant Health especially given how tumultuous the past two years have been, and the fact that Novant Health has been there to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in our community.”
ON SYSTEMWIDE LAYOFFS IN JANUARY:
: “Health care is not immune to the difficult economic realities that many companies are facing across our country right now
And many, many health systems are facing just tremendous economic pressures and Novant Health is not immune to that, either.
You know, we saw announcements here in our own community within nCino and other companies that are having to make very difficult decisions. And in 2022, for the first time in decades, Novant Health experienced an operating loss, as did many health systems across the country. And so throughout last year and into this year, we’re certainly working to stabilize our financial situation, and remain committed to delivering the remarkable care that our community deserves. But that did require us to make some very difficult decisions to eliminate some leadership positions across the entire organization.
“Some of those were here in the coast, but those impacted the entire organization across the entire state. … We do not anticipate any further impact. Those decisions were real-ly at the leadership level. Changes have to start with leadership. And we wanted to keep the impact as far away from our frontline caregiving staff as possible.”
ON THE NEW NEUROSCIENCES INSTITUTE IN WILMINGTON:
: “...It’s a 108-bed facility [at Novant Health NHRMC’s main campus on 17th Street] focused on neuro patients who might have had stroke care or other neurological issues.
We will have our level three epilepsy center there; we have [operating rooms] that are specifically in procedure rooms dedicated to neurosurgery there. There’s a neuro ICU … It’s really dedicated to cohorting those neurological patients together so that we can provide that top care that we’ve always done here and continue to serve the region.”
ON STAFFING CHALLENGES:
: “How can you tell if a certain area or if our area is being more severely impacted, particularly in terms of nursing shortages? How do you know when you look at comparable hospitals whether we’re faring better or worse in terms of navigating that shortage?”
: “When I talk to my peers, we’re all pretty much in the same shape. Our reliance on trav-elers, not just nursing travelers but other specialties, is still high, and I don’t see that going away in the near future. We are working locally with schools about how do we grow the class size of not only nursing pro-grams but allied health programs.
We’ve also been looking at our care models. How do we create new roles that can support nurses and respiratory therapists to still take care of our patients and deliver that high-quality care and safe care that we focus on every day?”
: “… This is a nationwide nursing shortage and health care professional shortage. And so we continue to aggressively recruit and retain staff.
We’re trying to offer flexible scheduling, flexible benefits to not only attract but retain. We’re looking
at international staff and bringing in international nurses and other professions. So really trying to do everything we can to stabilize that staffing situation, but it is here for the long term.”
Stevens and Gizdic also talked about other projects for the local health system, including a new hospital in northern New Hanover County. Hear the entire interview at facebook.com/WilmingtonBiz