My Turn: Belhaven community continues its effort to keep its hospital

Published 3:05 pm Saturday, March 1, 2014



Recently, Vidant Health has been conducting a campaign to appear more community friendly, to the extent of airing a commercial during the Super Bowl (television coverage). I believe this new effort is attempting to minimize damage to their public image created by their savage assault on health care in our town.

Our community has had a hospital for over 60 years and has always found a way to survive through good and bad times. A couple of years ago, our local hospital board was looking for a way to secure a solid foundation for our hospital in the coming years. Vidant was asked to look at our facility and determine if they would consider taking it over due to their tremendous resources. Vidant told the community they were willing to take our hospital over and would, according to their agreement: “Serve to maintain the identity and viability of Pungo District Hospital in Pungo’s service area; maintain and strengthen Pungo’s commitment to the community in providing health care services without regard to ability to pay.”

Less than two years after acquiring our hospital, I received a call from WITN requesting comments on Vidant’s closing of our local hospital. I was shocked! I originally thought a horrible mistake had been made. I then learned that Vidant had indeed decided to close our hospital with absolutely no notice to the communities they serve. They didn’t ask for any community assistance with issues at the hospital. There are two counties and several towns that rely heavily on the services provided at our hospital. I am certain our community would have worked with Vidant to remedy any problems they were having.

We have had meetings to explain the necessity of our hospital to Vidant. Our hospital serves people up to 70 miles away, and now those people will have another 30 miles to survive before emergency room care is available. It saddens me to tell you Vidant has displayed absolutely no concern for the certainty that this extra 30-plus minutes will cause many deaths. They seem more concerned with financial issues than emergency medicine.

The Town of Belhaven now has a business plan prepared by experts that shows our hospital can break even if run properly. The business plan was done after town officials expressed grave doubts about numbers Vidant shared in meetings concerning losses at our hospital. The company who prepared the business plan asked Vidant if they would consider working with the community if they could be shown a way for the hospital to be financially feasible. Vidant said they would not be interested in working with the community at all.

Lastly, Vidant came to our town of 1,700 people, plus a service area of 20,000 people, and they are trying to cut our heart out. They want to close our biggest employer, shut down our largest town utility customer, and devastate the quality of our healthcare by removing our hospital and emergency room facility. All of this has been done without any communication with the community. They are also trying to divide our community with implied threats to leave our town with no health care if we don’t go along quietly. Does this sound like a community-oriented organization? I am writing this letter to ensure your community is aware of how Vidant does business. I do not want to see any more communities potentially ruined by the Vidant Health way of doing business.

“An extra 30 minutes is a long time when you’re dying.”

Adam O’Neal is the mayor of Belhaven.