NORTH WILKESBORO — Last night, the Board of Commissioners of the town of North Wilkesboro unanimously approved a resolution, which corresponded with the unanimous recommendation from the Board of WRMC Hospital Operating Corporation, to enter into a letter of intent with Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center and begin negotiations leading to a long-term lease of Wilkes Regional Medical Center (WRMC). Under the terms of its proposal, Wake Forest Baptist will invest $238 million in support of WRMC, the town of North Wilkesboro, the Wilkes community, and patients in the region it serves during the initial 30-year term of the lease.
Within the next few weeks a formal letter of intent will be signed by the parties, and a targeted 180-day due diligence period will begin. All parties emphasized that this is the next step in the process and there is still much work to be done before a lease agreement is finalized.
“The WRMC Hospital Operating Corporation Board took time to decide on a proposal because we wanted to make sure that we determined the best fit for Wilkes County,” said Eric Cramer, board chairman, WRMC Hospital Operating Corporation. “Wake Forest Baptist was already providing services for our patients and engaged within the community. This decision was not solely about the money, it was about the right fit. We determined that it was the best fit for not only the Town of North Wilkesboro and Wilkes County as a whole, but for the general region the hospital serves as well.”
The town of North Wilkesboro officials said this step is the natural progression of a bond that has been built between all three parties over time. “This new relationship will build on the historic experiences of the people of Wilkes County,” said North Wilkesboro Commissioner Debbie Ferguson. “Wake Forest Baptist began operating the WRMC Emergency Department about 10 years ago and dramatically improved the satisfaction of people using that facility. Most recently, the willingness to assist with operating the hospitalist program while knowing the new leasing options were being investigated was an incredibly supportive move to provide excellent health care to the citizens of this community.”
Cramer said sweeping changes in the health care industry prompted the move to affiliate with a larger health system that would invest in the health care of the community. “Wilkes Regional Medical Center is already a very strong hospital, with experienced administrators, staff and physicians and complemented by a strong group of community physicians and specialists. We are well-positioned for the future. We want to make sure that this key community asset is maintained and improved so people in the community have greater access to services currently not available.”
Both Ferguson and Cramer credited Carolinas HealthCare System as being instrumental in bringing WRMC through the past nine years. “Carolinas HealthCare System has supported our hospital in so many ways, too many to name, ultimately setting up the situation for the successful transition to Wake Forest Baptist,” said Ferguson. “We will always be grateful to them for helping get our hospital back into a much stronger position than it was in when they began managing the organization.”
Ferguson further commented, “We are grateful for the investments Wake Forest Baptist will be making in our community.” She went on to say that “there is a great deal of community pride and confidence to have our hospital operated by a world class health care organization.”
“Wake Forest Baptist is enthusiastic about the future of health care in Wilkes County,” said Wake Forest Baptist CEO John McConnell, M.D. “We are very pleased with the decision of the Hospital Board and the Town of North Wilkesboro to choose Wake Forest Baptist as their community partner,” he said. “Together, we look forward to a long-term, healthy and prosperous relationship that will ensure excellent care for Wilkes County citizens and increase our ability to grow value-based clinical programs that benefit the Wilkes community.”