On the table — $2 million offered to aid effort to save Belhaven’s hospital

Published 4:58 pm Saturday, March 15, 2014

FILE PHOTO | DAILY NEWS HELP OFFERED: Beaufort County is ready to provide $2 million to help save Vidant Pungo Hospital if specific requirements are met.

HELP OFFERED: Beaufort County is ready to provide $2 million to help save Vidant Pungo Hospital if specific requirements are met.

The Beaufort County Board of Commissioners on Friday voted 4-3 to lend $2 million — if specific conditions are met — to the effort to save Belhaven’s hospital.

Vidant Health plans to close Vidant Pungo Hospital on April 1.

Belhaven Mayor Adam O’Neal told the board during its emergency meeting Friday that $3 million is needed to keep the hospital open and operating for 90 days, should a new entity own and operate the hospital.

Commissioners Hood Richardson, Stan Deatherage, Gary Brinn and Robert Belcher voted for the plan. Board Chairman Jerry Langley and commissioners Ed Booth and Al Klemm voted against it.

The board’s vote was made in a packed commissioners meeting room.

“I’m excited. Now, we’ve got some more work to do,” O’Neal said moments after the vote. “Now we have to go back to the LLC and see if we can get them to realize how important this is and to help us. Let’s all start talking about how we can do it.”

The board’s approval of the plan sets into motion several things that must be accomplished before the county delivers the $2 million. They include the following:

• The $2 million would go to a new entity that would take ownership and manage the hospital, provided Pantego Creek LLC deeds the hospital property to the new entity. Pantego Creek LLC  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.

• The $2 million would be secure by a deed of trust to the hospital property by the new entity.

• Beaufort County required the Town of Belhaven and Hyde County (if they so desire) to put up the remainder of the $3 million in some form that is acceptable to Beaufort County, which would hold the first lien against the hospital property.

• Beaufort County would conduct a referendum to allow county voters in the eastern part of the county to vote on creating a hospital district with taxing authority in order to help maintain the hospital. Should the hospital remain open but fail and become unable to pay its bills, the hospital-district tax would remain in place until the county or any other entity that loans money to the new entity recovers the money they provided.

“Beaufort County is only acting as the bank. You guys are putting the deal together. It’s between the (Town) of Belhaven, the groups in Belhaven that either want to make this work or not make this work. We’re only acting as a funding source, should you make this work. We’re going to have certain conditions, and then you people will have certain conditions on each other,” Deatherage said before the vote was taken. “As long as you meet our conditions, you will have a hospital, providing y’all can put the rest of these pieces together. I’m going to beg the balance of these commissioners to vote for this so we can see if Belhaven, in fact, wants this hospital bad enough. Let’s do what we can to help them on this one deal.”

Brinn explained his reason for voting for the deal.

“When we started talking about this, I really was sitting on the fence about how to do this. I had to put myself in the shoes of the people of Belhaven and think how they felt. I had to look at what that hospital leaving Belhaven would do to the economy of Belhaven. It would destroy it, I fear. So, I’ve made my decision on that,” Brinn said.

Klemm considers the deal “risky” and does not support it. He noted that the company that prepared the business plan for keeping the hospital open and manages some small, rural hospitals, including Washington County Hospital in Plymouth, went into bankruptcy recently under a different name. Klemm also said he spoke with the chairman of the Washington County Board of Commissioners about that company. The chairman has no confidence in the new company that emerged as the result of the bankruptcy, Klemm said.

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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