LEGAL STANCE: Belhaven Council retains legal representation for hospital disputePublished 8:09pm Tuesday, February 25, 2014
By JONATHAN ROWE | DAILY NEWS
BELHAVEN — The Belhaven Town Council voted Monday night to pay a $25,000 retainer fee for legal services, its latest action in an attempt to prevent closure of the community’s hospital.
“We have a situation that can be overcome, but we have to work together,” said Belhaven Mayor Adam O’Neal.
The town of Belhaven voted 5-0 to hire Ward and Smith, PA to represent its legal interests regarding the hospital, particularly as pertains to whether Vidant Health fulfilled its contractual obligation, according to O’Neal.
In early September, Vidant Health announced plans to close the facility on April 1 and replace it with a 12,000 square-foot, $4.2 million around-the-clock multispecialty facility.
Several members of the community gave their comments on the issue during the meeting, including 49-year veteran of the medical profession and former mayor of Belhaven, Dr. Charles O. Boyette.
According to Boyette, competent emergency facilities and hospital services are needed to decrease mortality and morbidity in addition to keeping an economic balance.
“Our people deserve quality healthcare services at the local level,” Boyette said. “The EMTs cannot replace the emergency room services. You cannot replace the golden hour.”
Rural Community Hospitals of America, LLC (RCHA) and the town council of Belhaven also presented a town-funded business plan — previously voted on 4-1 —to show local residents the options for running its own hospital. Pending the outcome of litigation, RCHA would likely be one of the companies considered to take on the hospital’s management.
“We interview management companies to pick the best one for our situation. It may be RCHA or someone else,” O’Neal said.
According to O’Neal, when Vidant Health took over the Pungo District Hospital, there was an agreement with Pantego Creek LLC, then the hospital management, to maintain hospital operations. However, officials with Vidant Health have said Vidant has abided by that agreement.
“Vidant Health has complied with its agreement with Pantego Creek LLC,” Christine Mackey, corporate communications specialist of strategic development at Vidant Health, wrote in an email. “We are aware that Pantego Creek contracted with RCHA to conduct an assessment. We have not seen the assessment or any plans based on the assessment. We have stated that if Pantego Creek wishes to take the hospital back over and operate it as such, we would be willing to work with them to that end,” Mackey said.
In December 2013, Vidant Health purchased 19.4 acres of land in Belhaven where the new multispecialty clinic would be located. Mackey said Vidant has plans to break ground for the facility as soon as possible, but has been prevented from doing so because the Town of Belhaven has been unresponsive to repeated requests for information and cooperation regarding zoning of the property.