Hospital closure subject of discrimination complaint

Published 6:34 pm Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Local and state NAACP officials on Tuesday filed a Title VI discrimination complaint concerning Vidant Health’s plan to close Vidant Pungo Hospital in Belhaven.

The complaint was filed by Bill Booth, president of the Beaufort County NAACP; Michael Adams, president of the Hyde County NAACP; and William Barber II, president of the North Carolina NAACP, according to Belhaven Mayor Adam O’Neal. The complaint was filed with the federal civil-rights office in Atlanta, according to O’Neal. The complaint was faxed to that office about 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, O’Neal said.

“Mr. Al McSurely and Rev. William Barber II, they are going Washington, D.C., Thursday to present it go government officials as well, I might be going Thursday, as well,” O’Neal said.

McSurely is an attorney for the N.C. NAACP. Attempts to reach McSurely on Tuesday evening were not successful. McSurely is a partner in the law firm of McSurely & Turner in Chapel Hill.

The complaint alleges that Vidant Health failed to follow through on its contractual requirement to keep the hospital open and expand its services and discriminatory practices on the part of Vidant Health, O’Neal said Tuesday evening.

“They are absolutely charging Vidant Health with not living up to the contract with the people of Belhaven with the hospital,” the mayor said.

The complaint charges that “people are going to die” if the hospital is closed, the mayor said.

“They said (in the complaint) we’re fighting for people’s lives,” he said.

The complaint’s goal is to keep the hospital open, O’Neal said.

Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination in services and programs on the basis of race, color and national origin by recipients of federal financial assistance. Title VI, in addition to other federal laws and state laws that may apply, authorizes and requires recipients to manage their programs, projects and services offered in a way that cumulative discriminatory burdens and distribution patterns.

The decision to close the hospital was announced in early September. That announcement was the catalyst for rallies in support of keeping the hospital open, a forum conducted by Vidant Health officials to explain the decision to close the hospital and meetings between Vidant Health officials and local government officials to explore possible options related to providing health care as the hospital prepares to close.

Belhaven officials, especially O’Neal, oppose the closing of the hospital and make it clear that if the hospital closes they want the new clinic replacing it to have a full-service emergency room. Vidant Health officials indicate that likely won’t happen. Belhaven officials contend Vidant Health was not upfront with the town and its residents concerning the hospital’s future when it took over ownership and management of the hospital several years ago

“Vidant came to town and misrepresented to the people what their intentions were, and I hope that through our efforts we’re able to secure the hospital for the people of Belhaven,” O’Neal said in a recent interview. “We have to have an ER for the people of Belhaven. It (the closing) will handicap our area economically forever.”

A primary concern of Belhaven officials, residents and others in the area served by Vidant Pungo Hospital is how the closing will affect emergency medical services in the hospital’s service area. They worry that longer response times and transport times to other medical facilities will result in lives lost.

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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