Vidant Health donates to hospital cause
Published 7:13 pm Friday, April 4, 2014
BELHAVEN — Vidant Health has pledged $1 million to help the City of Belhaven transfer operations of Vidant Pungo Hospital to a new management company.
Town leaders, NAACP representatives and executives from Vidant Health met Thursday evening to sign a mediation agreement that extends the life of the hospital by 90 days, a move that will hopefully give the community enough time to come up with a plan, and the management, to keep the hospital open.
The signing took place in front of the hospital, with a crowd of celebratory residents, town council members and Vidant Pungo employees looking on.
“This is a great and beautiful and historic day right here in Belhaven,” said Dr. William Barber II, president of the North Carolina NAACP.
During his remarks, Barber pressed the point that Medicaid should be expanded in North Carolina, and called on legislators to use that money to help preserve rural community hospitals like the one in Belhaven.
“This is not about partisanship. This is about saving people’s lives,” Barber said. “While we may not be in a sprawling urban area, our health care is just as important. For a rural hospital to survive, we need federal Medicaid expansion.”
The North Carolina NAACP, with Beaufort County branch President Bill Booth and Hyde County branch President Michael Adams, filed a civil rights complaint with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in response to the September 2013 announcement that Vidant Health would be closing the hospital and replacing it with a 24 hour, seven days a week, multi-specialty clinic. Public outcry over the loss of an emergency room and concern over the economic devastation that would come spurred the Belhaven Town Council, led by Mayor Adam O’Neal, to seek ways to prevent the hospital’s closure. Mediation between the three parties — NAACP, the town of Belhaven, and Vidant executives — by a U.S. Department of Justice representative led to the agreement announced last week.
At Thursday’s press conference, Dr. David Herman, president and CEO of Vidant Health, said Vidant Health thought they were doing the right thing by closing the hospital that had been operating in the red for many years and replacing it with a clinic, but “the people of Belhaven deserved the opportunity to make a go of it.”
Herman said Vidant would put up $1 million to help the town access the $2 million the Beaufort County Commissioners voted to loan the town on March 14 to help stave off closure. He also said Vidant will maintain its affiliated doctors’ practices in Belhaven and will help the town transition to new management.
“We’re not done yet,” O’Neal told the crowd, stressing that it will take the work of the community to turn a plan into action. “We have a chance to start from scratch. … The only thing that can stop us from being successful is ourselves.”
O’Neal said in the next couple of weeks, a committee consisting of a county appointee and representatives from both Beaufort and Hyde counties would be decided and begin the process of finding new hospital management.
“If everybody works together, we know it will work,” O’Neal said.