Forum’s focus is to save hospital

Published 7:00 pm Friday, March 7, 2014

Belhaven’s Board of Aldermen will hold an open forum at the Belhaven Civic Center on Tuesday as part of an effort to save Vidant Pungo Hospital.

The meeting, scheduled for 7 p.m., is a continuation of area residents’ fight to stop Vidant Health from closing the facility next month. Vidant announced plans in September 2013 to close the hospital and replace it with an around-the-clock multispecialty clinic.

“This meeting is a chance to give the citizens the right to express themselves on the hospital matter,” said Adam O’Neal, mayor of Belhaven. “This will be one of the final opportunities for people to try and ask the Vidant board for help before their executives close the hospital. The forum will be open to the public, and we welcome comments from anybody.”

The Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, will give an update on the civil-rights complaint filed by state and local NAACP leaders. There will be an in-depth explanation of the issue and efforts to obtain county commissioners’ support, said the mayor.

“I hope to get the commissioners to form a small subcommittee to look into our issue and see what ways they can help us,” O’Neal said.

The mayor is scheduled to appear before the commissioners during their meeting Monday and discuss the latest developments concerning a plan for another entity other than Vidant Health to keep the hospital open.

The option is possible.

At a public forum last year when the hospital’s future was discussed, Vidant Health CEO and President Dr. David Herman said, “There is an option for that group to take that hospital back, and try to find a group to run that hospital,” Herman said. “If they want to take a look at that, they can certainly look at that. So, that is an option for that community. If you can get that group to turn the hospital over to the community, then the community could assume the responsibility for trying to make that stuff work.”

Herman was referring to Pantego Creek LLC, which has five managing members and which represents the former membership of Pungo District Hospital Corp. Because Pungo District Hospital was a private corporation, a third group, Pantego Creek LLC, was created to protect the interests of the former membership corporation.

The Pantego Creek LLC members met in late September 2013 to talk about the possible reversion, said Chuck Williams, spokesman for group, then.

“It is being discussed. As he (Herman) said, they have made two proposals to us to offer the property back with the building or offer the property back without the property,” Williams said the day after the Pantego Creek LLC members met. “It’s being explored. One of the two is going to happen, unless Vidant decides to stay in this building (existing hospital), and I don’t see or hear that anywhere. I think that’s in stone; that they’re leaving this physical facility. That’s pretty clear.”