Board to consider hospital plan — emergency meeting slated for 2 p.m. Friday

Published 7:20 pm Thursday, March 13, 2014

MIKE VOSS | DAILY NEWS SEEKING HELP: Belhaven Mayor Adam O’Neal asks for the county’s help in keeping the Belhaven hospital open. He made the request Thursday during a meeting of a committee comprised of three members of the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners.

SEEKING HELP: Belhaven Mayor Adam O’Neal asks for the county’s help in keeping the Belhaven hospital open. He made the request Thursday during a meeting of a committee comprised of three members of the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners.

The Beaufort County Board of Commissioners will meet in an emergency session at 2 p.m. today to consider possible financial support for the effort to keep Vidant Pungo Hospital open.

Emerging from a closed session Thursday, a board committee — Al Klemm, Hood Richardson and Gary Brinn — announced it would make a report about the issue to the full board at the emergency session. The committee met Thursday to receive information from Belhaven Mayor Adam O’Neal concerning the effort to keep the hospital open and raise enough money — $3 million — to open its door and keep it operating for 90 days.

Richardson said the next step in keeping the hospital open is for Pantego Creek LLC to seek a court injunction to keep Vidant Health from closing it April 1. The request for an injunction would have to come from Pantego Creek LLC, according to Richardson.

Pantego Creek LLC, which has five managing members (four are active and one recently resigned) and 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 after Vidant Health took over the hospital.

During his remarks to the committee Thursday, O’Neal asked the county to consider providing funds to help Belhaven keep the hospital open. O’Neal said Belhaven is willing to commit $500,000 to that end. The mayor also said he’s talking with Hyde County officials in an effort to secure funding from Hyde County to help keep the hospital open. The hospital serves Hyde County.

“As far as you all go, if you have the cash, what’s wrong with putting it into the community and taking some collateral for it and, hopefully. Getting paid back in the future?” O’Neal said to the committee. “I think also you need to wait about three years before collecting your money back because the hospital’s going to need to get back on its feet.”

Richardson told O’Neal that if the county were to provide money to help keep the hospital open, the county would need the hospital property as collateral.

O’Neal also explained that a business plan created for the hospital — if a group is able to take it from Vidant Health and find an entity to manage and operate it — indicates the hospital could reach the break-even point or even turn a profit in about five years or so. The mayor said he believes the hospital, which has been losing money in recent years, needs to be saved so it can continue to save lives and serve as a vital economic engine for Belhaven.

“Trust me, if we did a business plan and it said (the hospital) was going to lose $1 million or $2 million a year, I would not be standing here talking to you. I would have not spent 20 hours a week for the last four months working on this,” O’Neal said.

Richardson responded, “Mr. Mayor, I like the fact that you have put together a plan that is workable. It really, essentially, involves recapitalization in that you’re proposing that a new entity take over ownership of the property. You’re proposing that a new board — I think you should put in there somewhere … with adequate qualifications because the people that serve on these hospital boards are no different from the people that serve on major corporation boards. You have to bring some skill and some knowledge to the table, and it has to be in the area of finance, in the area of medicine, in the area of running a hospital.”

Klemm, after emerging from the closed session, noted the committee’s concerns related to the issue and the O’Neal’s remarks.

“We had detailed discussion within the closed session. Coming out of closed session, we have some concerns, but we also have a plan that needs to be discussed with the full board,” Klemm said. “Concerns run into areas of the LLC in relation to their involvement, cash flow. We’d like to have more information on a management company and how that might go forward. Also, we’d like to have information on how equipment needs for the facility would be covered. Those are concerns I’ve documented.”

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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