Hospital to align with UHS

Published 12:31 am Saturday, August 27, 2011

An affiliation by University Health Systems of Eastern Carolina with a second Beaufort County hospital is in the works following a vote by members of the Pungo District Hospital Corp. on Thursday.

Those members voted unanimously to amend the corporation’s bylaws and articles of incorporation to allow the hospital’s board of trustees to negotiate with the Greenville-based health-care system.

That vote by the Belhaven-based organization came the same night the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners and the boards that oversee the operations of Beaufort Regional Health System approved an affiliation between BRHS and UHS.

Pungo District Hospital leaders said they believe joining UHS would ensure continued access to health care in eastern Beaufort and on the Hyde County mainland, preserve jobs and ensure that area doctors have a facility where they can practice medicine and address the health-care needs of the community.

“This will guarantee appropriate health care for our community in the future,” said Jay D. “Rocky” Jacobs, president of the PDH Board of Trustees.

“Our hospital is in good shape today, but its future is uncertain in the current health-care environment,” he said. “Like hospitals throughout the United States, we realize that we must explore alternatives to address the shortfalls that we, like other hospitals, are experiencing due to increasing unpaid debt, charity care and proposed reductions in Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements to all health-care providers.”

Opened in 1949, Pungo District Hospital is a nonprofit, critical-access hospital, licensed for 49 beds, that serves the people of eastern Beaufort County and the Hyde County mainland.

Discussions will take place between PDH executives and trustees and UHS about a future relationship.

“The severe economic challenges of the past several years have driven hospitals and physicians to acknowledge they lack the resources to invest in information technology, facilities and equipment for new delivery models or the leverage to negotiate effectively with health plans,” said Ken Ragland, PDH chief executive officer. “This is leading to physicians and small, rural hospitals aligning with larger facilities in order to ensure local access and professional, cost-effective care at the highest standard for their patients, in addition to operating capital for the hospital.”

Just as members of the BRHS medical staff supported an affiliation by that hospital with UHS, members of the PDH medical staff also support an affiliation with the system.

“Health care is experiencing constant change, and medical professionals who do not modify their practice pattern in how they practice medicine and run their business cannot and will not survive,” said Dr. Charles Boyette, chief of staff at Pungo District Hospital. “It is imperative that we protect what we have, align ourselves carefully for the future and adapt and adjust as the situation demands.”

UHS Chief Executive Officer Dave McRae said maintaining a high level of quality health care in smaller communities throughout the region is key to improving the health of all people in eastern North Carolina.

“UHS has long been affiliated with Pungo District Hospital, and we look forward to building a stronger connection,” McRae said. “We at UHS are committed to keeping high-quality care available close to home for the people who depend on Pungo District Hospital.”

An affiliation with Pungo District Hospital will bring to nine the number of hospitals in eastern North Carolina that are under the UHS umbrella. The health-care system leases or has a majority membership interest in seven eastern North Carolina hospitals, and it has a management agreement with one other. Those hospitals include Albemarle Health, Bertie Memorial Hospital, Chowan Hospital, Duplin General Hospital, Heritage Hospital, Outer Banks Hospital, Pitt County Memorial Hospital and Roanoke-Chowan Hospital. The affiliation with Beaufort Regional Health System is scheduled to take effect Thursday.