Making the rounds with Novant NHRMC's president

Apr 25, 2024 • 4 min. read | By Vicky Janowski
Ernie Bovio

Ernie Bovio started in January as president of Novant Health New Hanover Regional Medical Center and Novant’s coastal region, which includes hospitals and physician offices in New Hanover, Brunswick and Pender counties.

Bovio has worked for decades as a health care executive, including most recently as head of UNC Health’s Triangle East Region covering UNC Health Rex in Raleigh and three other hospitals.

Below is a recent Q&A with Bovio.

What are your goals coming into (Novant’s) coastal market here around Wilmington?

“Continue some of the great work that’s being done now to … build more capacity because the way that this community is growing, we certainly need it. A lot of effort towards adding hospital beds, operating rooms, medical office space, recruiting more physicians. We’re probably going to be bringing in 25 to 30 new physicians every year for the foreseeable future, both primary care and specialty care to keep up with the growth.”


Speaking of physicians and workforce issues … what’s your take on availability, particularly within nursing?

“The nursing shortage has affected health care systems all over the place; Wilmington’s not immune to that. What we’re working on now is both recruitment efforts and retaining the existing staff that we have. You may have seen recently the $10 million commitment that Novant Health has made to partner with UNCW and Cape Fear Community College to provide scholarships for those going into nursing and health care. … We’ve also developed a nurse residency program that’s been very successful. So, graduate nurses coming into New Hanover Regional can rotate through a residency program to find the perfect fit for them and get them into the specialty that they’re interested in, where they can excel and grow their career. And then on the retention side, I think we’ve done a really good job of limiting the reliance on contract labor nurses. We’ve seen a steady decline from a peak a couple of years ago to where we are today, and that trajectory, that trend continues to go down. We’ve had many contract labor nurses that have converted to full-time employees with New Hanover Regional.”


Are there any other issues or things that you see most pressing as you’re coming into this role?

“Access is really important. We’re excited about the opening up of the first Novant Health Michael Jordan Family Medical Clinic in Wilmington. There’s two in Charlotte; this will be the first in Wilmington. It’s been designed with the purpose of serving traditionally underserved communities. We’ll break ground on the second Michael Jordan clinic shortly after this one opens. … It will serve a need that’s currently unmet right now. In addition to that, we launched the community cruiser a couple of months ago for the same purpose, really trying to get out to some areas that don’t have access.”


With your background, you’ve had instances where you’ve been a part of hospitals that have changed ownership … What has been your impression coming into Wilmington (where NHRMC changed from a county-owned hospital to being bought by Novant Health in 2021)?

“I have been a part of organizations that have either been acquired or have acquired others and have been through situations where integration with a different organization takes place, and that’s always challenging. There are cultural changes and disruptions that occur, whether it’s information systems, transformations, transitions or just policy changes. Organizations work differently. And if you think back over the past three to four years (for NHRMC): acquisition pandemic staffing challenges, integration with the new organization, new president, there’s been some disruption, some uncertainty – a lot of change that our medical staff and our team members have gone through, and they’ve done a pretty incredible job. … I think they weathered a lot of that disruption very, very well.”


It seems like Novant’s been moving more into South Carolina. … Does that fall under the coastal market as well? 

“That’s still to be determined. We have a partnership with Conway Medical Center, and we have a joint venture with them. The proximity of Conway Medical Center (in Horry County near Myrtle Beach) to us is such that we will be able to work together to help them build more advanced services and programs and also serve as a regional referral center for them as well. Currently, they’re sending some of their more subspecialty, high-end tertiary quaternary care to MUSC (Medical University of South Carolina) in Charleston, and we’re a little bit closer and offer many of the same services. So that’s an opportunity for us as well.”