Novant Health is a step closer to expanding its footprint in eastern North Carolina. The health care system plans to buy New Hanover Regional Medical Center in Wilmington.

The more than $5 billion proposal would provide capital investments at New Hanover and bolster Novant's plan to work with UNC Health and UNC School of Medicine. The partnership would include the establishment of a new UNC Health Sciences campus in Wilmington that would expand medical education and research opportunities in the area.

Community leaders say Wilmington's population is growing and more health care services are needed. The county, which owns the hospital, created a local advisory group last year to explore options for the facility.

Novant was among larger health care systems in the state vying for the medical center. Some local residents are questioning the sale. A group known as Save Our Hospital, Inc. tried to delay the process until its public records request was completed. But a superior court judge recently denied their temporary restraining order request.

New Hanover commissioners are expected to vote on the sale October 5.

Novant Health has had a presence in eastern North Carolina since 2006 when Brunswick Community Hospital was sold to the Winston-Salem-based health system.

*Follow WFDD's Keri Brown on Twitter @kerib_news

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