Hospital forum expected to draw hundreds

Published 9:11 pm Monday, September 23, 2013

Tonight’s forum on the future of Vidant Pungo Hospital provides an opportunity for Belhaven-area residents and Vidant Health officials to exchange concerns and information about the planned closing of the Belhaven hospital.

The forum is scheduled to run from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Wilkinson Center, 144 W. Main St., Belhaven.

Vidant Health plans to distribute information at the forum, according to Vidant Health spokeswoman Beth Anne Atkins, who plans to attend the forum.

“We will have some frequently asked questions,” Atkins said Monday.

Asked if Vidant Health would distribute other informational items, she said that would not happen.

“No, that’s it. That’s going to be the only thing we’re going to have available. It’s going to have frequently asked questions and the answers on there, as well. We’ll have plenty of copies,” Atkins said.

“I hope we have a big crowd at the forum. It means the area citizens will become aware of what’s about to happen to us,” Belhaven Mayor Adam O’Neal said. “We are about to be left without emergency-room facilities, which will mean lives will be lost. The town is unwavering in its insistence that there must be emergency-room facilities in the new clinic.”

O’Neal expects the forum to be one of the biggest public meetings in the town’s history.

“There’s going to be hundreds there,” he said.

Town Manager Guinn Leverett also discussed the forum.

“We feel like the people — not only of the town of Belhaven but this area — have been ignored and have not had a forum to express themselves. Seems like when you’re dealing with life-and-death, health and emergency situations which will arise, we’re just trying to foster an open exchange and let Vidant hear what the people they proposed to serve really want,” he said.

The forum was announced last week by Vidant Health and O’Neal, who had been seeking such a meeting since the town learned about Vidant Health’s plans to close the hospital, which has been in Belhaven since 1947.

“The public will have an opportunity to sign up to provide comments or ask questions, lasting up to three minutes each. You must sign up before the meeting begins in order to comment,” reads an email from Atkins.

Dr. David Herman, Vidant Health’s president and chief executive officer, and Roger Robertson, president of Vidant Community Hospitals, are scheduled to participate in the forum, Atkins said last week. Other Vidant Health officials likely will attend but not participate directly in the forum, she said.

Earlier this month, the Vidant Community Hospitals board decided to close the hospital and replace it with a multispecialty clinic that will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Plans call for a phased closing of the hospital during the next five or six months.

As services at the hospital are shut down, they will be offered at area Vidant Medical Group physician’s offices. Those services include specialty clinics, 24-hour-a-day care, laboratories, radiology and physical therapy.

Vidant Health expects to break ground on the new multispecialty clinic later this year. The new facility is expected to take about 18 months to complete.

About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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