Hospital’s closing called a ‘betrayal’

Published 5:35 pm Thursday, January 9, 2014

Belhaven residents and officials say their fight to keep Vidant Pungo Hospital open is also a fight for their lives and the lifeblood of the town.

They delivered that message Tuesday during a press conference announcing the filing of a Title VI complaint against Vidant Health, parent company of the hospital, with the federal government. The complaint alleges discrimination on the part of Vidant Health in its decision to close the Belhaven hospital.

Vidant Health issued this statement regarding the complaint filed by state and local NAACP officials: “Vidant Health continues to move forward with our plans to build a multispecialty clinic in Belhaven. In the meantime, we are working with local and state officials to transition health care services in Beaufort and Hyde counties to our Vidant Medical Group Physician Practices.”

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.

The Rev. Dr. William Barber II, president of the North Carolina NAACP, and Allan McSurely, a Chapel Hill-based attorney that does work for the North Carolina NAACP, were in Washington, D.C., on Thursday to present copies of the complaint to government officials.

Earlier this week, Belhaven Mayor Adam O’Neal 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 Tuesday

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

At the press conference, others echoed the mayor’s sentiments that Vidant Health’s decision to close the hospital will deliver a deathblow to the town’s medical services and economy. By closing the hospital and its emergency room, Vidant Health gets rid of an operation that’s been losing money for several years, they said. The closing of the hospital forces Belhaven-area residents to travel 30 miles to Washington for emergency medical care and adding to the revenues at Vidant Beaufort Hospital, they said.

O’Neal and others at the press conference accused Vidant Health of not keeping its word when it comes to the Belhaven hospital. The mayor said Vidant Health said it would keep the hospital open and expand its services when it took over management of the hospital about two years ago.

During the press conference, McSurely said Vidant Health is using the “bait-and-switch” approach with the Belhaven hospital. McSurely also employed the word “betrayal” in describing Vidant Health’s decision to close the hospital.

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 multispecialty clinic replacing it to have a full-service emergency room. Vidant Health officials indicate that likely won’t happen.

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.

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.


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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