Complaint alleges ‘deception’Published 5:15pm Saturday, January 18, 2014
Bill Booth has a hard time understanding how the hospital in Belhaven withstood years of hurricanes and flooding but will be closing after being taken over by Vidant Health in 2011.
Booth, president of the Beaufort County NAACP chapter, is one of the signatories of a Title VI complaint against Vidant Health, which announced last year it plans to close Vidant Pungo Hospital in Belhaven and replace it with a 24/7 multispecialty clinic. Booth says it’s wrong to close the hospital that means so much to the northeastern part of Beaufort County and Hyde County.
The Title VI complaint, filed Jan. 7, alleges, on the part of Vidant Health, “a continuing pattern of deception and discrimination.” The complaint lists blacks (African-Americans), Hispanics (Latinos) and American Indians (or Alaska natives) as groups of people being discriminated against. Joining Booth as complainants are the Rev. Dr. William Barber II, president of the North Carolina NAACP, and Michael Adams, present of the Hyde County NAACP.
“Presidents Adams and Booth believe the actions of Respondent Vidant shall lead directly to the deaths of several of their Branch’s families and friends,” reads the complaint filed with the Office for Civil Rights within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Region 4 offices in Atlanta.
The complaint addresses Vidant Health’s decision to close the Belhaven hospital.
“When it made this decision, Vidant knew its acts would cause premature deaths of infants and other poor people of color,” reads the complaint.
The complaint asks the federal government, if Vidant Health refuses to stop efforts to close the hospital and enter into negotiations concerning providing certain health-care services to Belhaven-area residents, to “turn off the faucet on the federal fund pipe that flows to Vidant’s bank account.”
“Complainants demand their tax money not be used to finance discriminatory practices that cause premature deaths of infants and other people,” reads the complaint.
A top Vidant Health official addressed those items in the complaint.
“Vidant Health cannot respond to a specific isolated statement in a document of undetermined length and content which we have not been given the opportunity to review. We continue to work with the appropriate parties to ensure that health care services remain available for the Vidant Pungo Hospital service area,” said Roger Robertson, president of Vidant Community Hospitals, in a statement issued Friday after Vidant Health received the page of the complaint with the “turn off the faucet” statement.
Asked what motivated him to be a party to the complaint, Booth replied,
“In northeastern Beaufort County, Belhaven and the surrounding areas, there are a lot of people who need medical help. They have diabetes, heart problems. They’re elderly. I was asked (to be a party). Other than being asked, I have family members in that area. I’ve noticed over the years how they’ve depended on the hospital for medical treatment. Then, to have that taken away is a major problem,” Booth said. “When Dr. (David) Herman (Vidant Health CEO and president) first did a presentation … I was listening, and I was kind of impressed with what he was saying in reference to the clinic and all that. But once I realized the clinic wouldn’t have an emergency room, that troubled me, especially when I found out by law — unless they have an emergency room — by law, they’re not legally required to serve people that can’t pay in the clinic. It was a multitude of things.”
Booth said many Belhaven-area residents and officials believe Vidant Health did not keep promises it made to them when it took over management of the hospital.
“That hospital has been in existence since 1947. It has endured floods, hurricanes, depressions, recessions and all. Vidant comes. Within two years, they’re destroying what the people built and maintained for over 65 years,” Booth said. “When Vidant came, they said, ‘We will introduce a better way of managing the hospital with our expertise.’ According to Vidant, the hospital was losing $1.5 million a year. When they came in, they said they lost $2.5 million. With their expertise and all, it would seem that, if anything, they would have lost less money. It makes absolutely no sense.”
Booth said if Vidant Health were “sincere in trying to save that hospital,” it could have reduced the staff size and closed off areas of the hospital not being used to reduce operating expenses.
“I don’t see any forethought that went into Vidant’s thinking as trying to save that hospital and trying to improve the quality of life for the people of that area. They stated when they secured the hospital that that’s what, basically, they would be doing. It makes no sense whatsoever.”
Booth said he would like to see another entity take over ownership and management of the hospital. Efforts to that effect are under way, he said. During a forum last fall, Herman referred to that option.
“There is an option for that group to take that hospital back, and try to find a group to run that hospital,” Herman said at the forum. “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 two days after the forum, to talk about the possible reversion, said Chuck Williams, spokesman for the group, the day after that meeting.