Hospital closure focus of rally

Published 9:01 pm Friday, September 6, 2013

Belhaven Mayor Adam O’Neal (far right) is praised by Thomas Wahab as he shakes hands with Karen Wahab. MONA MOORE | DAILY NEWS

Belhaven Mayor Adam O’Neal (far right) is praised by Thomas Wahab as he shakes hands with Karen Wahab.

BELHAVEN — Nearly 300 people attended a Thursday evening rally protesting the impending closing of Vidant Pungo Hospital.
The Vidant Community Hospitals board announced Wednesday that Vidant Pungo Hospital would close and be replaced by a 24-hour clinic that will be open seven days a week.
Mayor Adam O’Neal called for the rally to have his concerns heard by Vidant officials. Those officials have been unreachable this week, according to the mayor.
“All we want is for Vidant to start communicating with the town about the level of care, and we’re not going away till they do,” O’Neal said after the rally. “If they don’t start talking to us, there’ll be another rally in a couple weeks. We’re not gonna go away.”
Vidant Pungo Hospital is slated to close in phases over the next six months. The clinic is set to open in 18 months. As services at the hospital are shut down, they will be offered at area Vidant Medical Group physicians’ offices. Those services include specialty clinics, 24-hour-a-day care, laboratories, radiology and physical therapy.
Beaufort County Commissioner Hood Richardson attended the rally. He said there are no guarantees the clinic would be built and opened.
“Once they leave the area, they may just disappear,” he said after the rally. “Vidant preaches to everybody, but at the end of the day, it’s about money.”
O’Neal noted the absence of Vidant officials at the rally.
“It is shocking that an entity that has so much of an effect on the quality of life in Belhaven does not even have respect to come meet with local citizens,” he said.
“They just are trying to tell us that we’ll be better off,” O’Neal continued. “We’re not gonna be better off with 100 less jobs. We are not gonna be better off losing a utility customer that pays $450,000 a month. We are not gonna be better off driving to Greenville to see family members in the hospital. We are not gonna be better off in emergencies.”
Schram’s Beach resident Ulrich Alsentzer drafted a resolution that calls for not only keeping Vidant Pungo Hospital in continuous operation, but also to improve its services to the elderly.
He started a petition drive to complement his resolution.
“There’s a huge population that really doesn’t have adequate access to health care,” said Alsentzer, a retired medical doctor. “I know that there are many people who are just too poor to travel to Greenville or Beaufort County for medical care and the public transportation is just not practical.”