Archived Story

Fight to reopen hospital continues

Published 6:31pm Monday, July 7, 2014

BELHAVEN — Despite Vidant Health closing Vidant Pungo Hospital Tuesday, the town of Belhaven, the North Carolina NAACP and the hospital’s transfer team say the hospital can be reopened and sustained through use of an Accountable Care Organization.

Bo Bobbitt, a nationally recognized healthcare expert on ACOs, said the program is a mechanism that can make rural healthcare more viable and is perfect for the healthcare situation in Belhaven. ACOs are a provision of the Affordable Healthcare Act that says if hospitals can save Medicare money given by the government, that saved money will be split with the ACO.

Bobbit said the hospital in Belhaven is a perfect atmosphere for an ACO and the incentives it offers. An ACO implemented would mean keeping people healthy by making sure patients stayed on top of taking their prescribed medicines and making their doctors appointment. Bobbitt said the ACO system entails everyone working together to keep the community healthier.

“I’m very excited about being a part of this and I hope we can have the opportunity to do this,” Bobbitt said. “This is my calling. Ya’ll need me. I know ACOs and it’s going to work.”

Dr. LeJon Poole, head of the Rural Healthcare Management Program at Campbell, and Dr. Norris Gunby, an associate professor at the University of Chapel Hill, make up Poole and Associates, the group aiding the town and NC NAACP with coming up with a plan to run the hospital. Belhaven Mayor Adam O’Neal said the town hired Poole and Associates to aid in overseeing the transfer of the hospital after being referred to them by other rural healthcare experts. The group was willing to help and did so by aiding the town in developing a rural healthcare model, O’Neal said.

Poole and Associates said under Vidant’s management, the hospital had unnecessary costs, didn’t need as many beds and was over budgeted. They say the hospital, if reopened, needs to be downsized with only about 10 beds and appropriate budgeting.

Poole and Associates presented statistics to community members at Tuesday’s town council meeting, which showed a feasibility plan for reopening and running the hospital. The plan showed that after a five-year period, the hospital would operate in the black.

“We’re projecting this hospital to not lose money,” Poole said. “There is a need for strong community support to make this happen.”

Poole said Vidant Pungo Hospital is a critical access hospital, meaning there is not another hospital or emergency services for at least 30 miles. He said a hospital with emergency services is needed or “people will get sicker and sicker and sicker.”

O’Neal said the town could reopen the hospital if Pantego Creek, LLC, the group formed to represent the interests of investors from the original Pungo District Hospital and charged with overseeing the 2011 contract with Vidant Health, would meet with the town and agree to transfer ownership. Members of the LLC were invited to attend the town council meeting Tuesday, but did not show up. O’Neal said the LLC has rights to the building and property once Vidant leaves.

In the event the town can meet with the members of the LLC and work out a transfer plan, the ACO will be made up of the new Pungo District Hospital Board, which will include Poole, O’Neal, two representatives from Hyde County, Beaufort County Health Director James Gadson, Beaufort County Commissioner Hood Richardson and Neal O’Neal of Belhaven, O’Neal said.

The NC NAACP filed an emergency appeal with the Department of Justice and Health and Human Services in addition to a Title 6 Civil Rights complaint in response to Vidant closing the hospital.

NC NAACP Attorney Allen Shirley said the Department of Justice would come in and investigate if people came forward with any evidence or testimonies, but there hasn’t been enough presently for them to do so.

“There haven’t been any developments that are enough to keep it from closing today,” Shirley said.

Belhaven Mayor Adam O’Neal commented on the complaint and appeal filed with the Department of Justice, claiming the town has given them all the info they had.

“They already have a case,” O’Neal said. “We’ve sent them plenty of information to get them down here. We should hear more this week.”

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