Back to the future?

Published 10:36am Saturday, September 28, 2013

BELHAVEN — A statement made by Vidant Health CEO and President Dr. David Herman about Vidant Pungo Hospital possibly reverting back to local ownership could transform into reality.

Herman made the comment during the forum held Tuesday night to discuss the closing of Vidant Pungo Hospital.

“There is an option for that group to take that hospital back, and try to find a group to run that hospital,” Herman said. “If they want to take a look at that, they can certainly look at that. So, that is an option for that community. If you can get that group to turn the hospital over to the community, then the community could assume the responsibility for trying to make that stuff work.”

Herman was referring to Pantego Creek LLC, which has five managing members and which represents the former membership of Pungo District Hospital Corp. Because Pungo District Hospital was a private corporation, a third group, Pantego Creek LLC, was created to protect the interests of the former membership corporation.

The Pantego Creek LLC members met Thursday afternoon, to talk about the possible reversion, said Chuck Williams, spokesman for group.

“It is being discussed. As he (Herman) said, they have made two proposals to us to offer the property back with the building or offer the property back without the property,” Williams said Friday afternoon. “It’s being explored. One of the two is going to happen, unless Vidant decides to stay in this building (existing hospital), and I don’t see or hear that anywhere. I think that’s in stone; that they’re leaving this physical facility. That’s pretty clear.”

Williams continued: “Those were the options that were presented to us. Now, we’re exploring those. After our meeting, we’ve got a lot more questions that we’re going to try to answer.”

During the forum, several people suggested Belhaven-area and Hyde County residents pursue finding another entity to take over running the hospital. Several of them asked to see the agreement that contains the provision allowing the hospital’s former management to take back the hospital.

One speaker at the forum asked Herman if the hospital’s former owners knew the hospital could be closed after Vidant Heath took it over.

“Yes, (Pantego) Creek, the people who owned that hospital, did understand that this would not be a hospital forever. We were very frank about that. As a matter of fact, that’s in the agreement that we made when we took control of that hospital,” Herman said.

Beaufort County Commissioner Al Klemm, speaking as a private citizen, said Vidant Health acted wrongly in providing no warning of its intent to close the hospital.

“Without the hospital or adequate medical services with an emergency room, or possibly a new hospital facility, the future growth and prosperity of Belhaven and the area around it is threatened. … It is my recommendation that a local advisory council be set up to provide input to Vidant on local needs and concerns that will arise with the hospital’s closing,” Klemm said. “I would also recommend that Vidant buy land for future needs and consider providing a facility similar to the six-bed facility for 24-hour medical care in Bertie County. It is my belief that if Vidant, Belhaven and the county work together, that a solution can be reached that satisfies the community’s needs.”

Earlier this month, the Vidant Community Hospitals board decided to close the hospital and replace it with a multispecialty clinic that will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Vidant Health plans a phased closing of the hospital during the next five or six months.

As services at the hospital are shut down, they will be offered at area Vidant Medical Group physician’s offices. Those services include specialty clinics, 24-hour-a-day care, laboratories, radiology and physical therapy.

Vidant Health expects to break ground on the new multispecialty clinic later this year. The new facility is expected to take about 18 months to complete.

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