Vidant Health continues with plans

Published 5:17 pm Saturday, January 11, 2014

Despite a Title VI complaint, Vidant Health is proceeding with its plans to close Vidant Pungo Hospital in Belhaven and replace it with a multispecialty around-the-clock clinic, according to a top Vidant Health official.

“We haven’t seen the complaint. So, it’s sort of difficult for me to address it,” Roger Robertson, president of Vidant Community Hospitals, said Thursday. We’ve requested it ourselves but have not received a copy yet.”

Vidant Community Hospital oversees Vidant Pungo Hospital, Vidant Beaufort Hospital and other hospitals under its umbrella.

“We look forward to seeing what’s in the complaint. At this point, it’s really up to the Office of Civil Rights, who it’s filed with. So, we’ll respond appropriately. We have no concerns about anything we’ve done. We’re comfortable with all the actions we’ve taken,” Robertson said.

Vidant Health has not closed the door on discussions with Belhaven-area officials and residents concerning the matter, he noted.

“We’re moving ahead with our plans as we’ve outline several times, and we’ve been very clear about what services we’re providing. If the town has other alternative, we’re more than willing to continue discussions and look at what they might have to bring forward,” Robertson said.

Robertson said the decision to close the Belhaven hospital was carefully made.

“It was a very difficult decision. Anytime that it appears we’re taking away what a community has had, it’s a difficult decision. It wasn’t made rapidly. It wasn’t made without a lot of analysis, serious thought to where you determine what the best model is. We looked at multiple models in terms of financial performance as well as the services to the community,” Robertson said. “What we finally arrived is not the least-expensive of the less loss model that would could potentially do, but we felt it was the model that we felt was most appropriate for the community to sustain health care in that environment.”

Robertson said Vidant Health believes the Belhaven area is part of its service area in eastern North Carolina.

“We’d like to continue to be there. We believe we’re moving forward with a model of health care that is sustainable for that community. We really think one of the biggest issues, of course, is around the emergency department. Not having that, we think that having a paramedic-level service … would be much more effective than continuing to have the hospital in that community. We hope that the county is willing to step up and develop those services,” he said.

On Tuesday, several state and area NAACP officials filed 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.

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, Belhaven Mayor Adam 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.

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 and others 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 have indicated that likely won’t happen.



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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