Hospital council addresses health-care commitment
Published 4:12 pm Monday, January 20, 2014
Rocky Jacobs, chairman of the Vidant Pungo Hospital Director’s Council, says Vidant Health is “living up to the agreement” it made with the Belhaven community and surrounding areas in 2011.
He’s not alone in making that assertion. Six other members of the council have signed a “letter to the community” making that statement. A copy of the letter, dated Jan. 23, was provided to the media Friday. The other council members are Marian D. Keech, Elizabeth C. Carr, Cynthia M. Heath, Gregory Jones (MD), Alice M. Keeney and Del Tolan.
Jacobs said the letter’s purpose is to provide accurate information concerning the past, present and future of the Belhaven hospital. Some information that’s being disseminated about the hospital and the future of medical care in the Belhaven area “just is not accurate,” he said.
“Seriously, there are many people in the community (eastern Beaufort County and mainland Hyde County) that are very confused because there are stories out there that, ‘We were promised this’ or ‘We were promised that.’ What is in the letter is factually what occurred. It also factually starts listing the chain of events from … 2001,” Jacobs said Saturday.
“I think people need to know the other side of the story. The Director’s Council finally asked Vidant, ‘Can we tell the other side of the story?’ They said go right ahead. That’s where we are,” Jacobs said.
Jacobs said the letter helps fully explain the hospital’s journey during the past 15 years. That journey included an ever-decreasing revenue stream, he said.
“You have to find a (business) model that’s affordable and sustainable. That’s what brought all this out. I don’t think the community understands that,” Jacobs said.
Jacobs said the council realized that building a new hospital was not economically feasible under current economic conditions and considering the physical condition of the existing hospital.
“Rural health care is not going that way. Rural health care is putting paramedic service on ambulances so that you have emergency care at the point of contact when that ambulance pulls up to the house,” Jacobs said. “Our commissioners decided not to go that way. Our mayor (Belhaven Mayor Adam O’Neal) talked against it. That’s their privilege; that’s their opinion. But the fact of the matter is that’s where health care is going.”
Jacobs added: “I think Vidant has taken the high road. They have gone ahead, and we understand they have purchased the land to build the clinic. They purchased in the town of Belhaven. They had other choices. … They’re just moving along and trying to take the high road, if I can us that term.”
The letter discusses the hospital’s challenges in recent years and what Vidant Health did with the hospital after acquiring it.
“Over the past 10 – 15 years, our hospital has faced many difficult situations. You may remember that back in 2001, Pungo District Hospital filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy due to the severe financial crisis that we faced. Our hospital was in deep financial debt, costs to deliver health care were rising, and our 50 year old hospital was in need of many major repairs,” reads the letter.
The letter lists the following challenges the hospital faced:
• Grant money was decreasing.
• The hospital continued to lose money on operations.
• The cost of providing care continued to rise.
• The building was now in need of major, critical repairs.
• The expense of providing uncompensated care continued to rise.
• New rules and regulations of the 2010 Affordable Care Act were coming, including reductions in Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements and the requirement that all hospitals have electronic health records, a cost that would exceed $2 million.
• Concerns about the ability to recruit and retain doctors and other health care workers to the community, a problem that many rural communities all across the country were facing.
“It became very clear to our hospital leadership and to the Board of Trustees that Pungo District Hospital would need to find a partner or risk shutting down; leaving little to no access to health care for our community. We also recognized that small rural hospitals, as well as doctors all over the country, were aligning with larger facilities in order to survive. The future did not look hopeful if we continued to go it alone,” reads the letter.
During negotiations with University Health Systems of Eastern Carolina (now Vidant Health), the letter notes, UHSEC was clear it could not “guarantee a hospital; however, they would guarantee appropriate sustainable health care services for our community going forward,” the letter reads.
“We, as trustees, were hopeful a hospital would always remain, but our most important focus was being sure that there would always be health care services available here, including doctors and outpatient services,” the letter reads.
The letter notes that since October 2011, Vidant Health has done the following:
• At the request of Belhaven physicians, assumed responsibility for their offices.
• Spent $2.3 million on an electronic health record system for Vidant Pungo Hospital that is required of all hospitals.
• Spent over $1 million on facility repairs and equipment at Vidant Pungo Hospital that were necessary to be in compliance and keep the doors of the hospital open.
• Spent approximately $2.3 million in providing uncompensated care at Vidant Pungo Hospital.
“It was not easy for our Director’s Council to accept the recommendation of a multispecialty clinic with 24/7 urgent care service, and not a small hospital. When we met with Vidant Health leadership and reviewed the projections for various models of care, we understood the changes that had to be made. We fully support the 24/7 multispecialty clinic option and appreciate Vidant Health staying the course and not abandoning our community. The clinic will provide primary and urgent care 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This was not the least expensive model reviewed. It is expected that the clinic will lose approximately $1 million per year for the foreseeable future, which Vidant Health will continue to fund,” reads the letter.