Town granted temporary restraining order in effort to save hospital

Published 8:36 pm Tuesday, August 19, 2014

BELHAVEN — The debate over the future of Vidant Pungo Hospital continues as the Town of Belhaven pushes to keep the hospital from being demolished.

Last Thursday, in a Beaufort County Superior Court case that took place in Wilson, Judge Milton Fitch, Jr. granted the town’s request for a temporary restraining order, keeping Vidant Health and Pantego Creek, LLC, who objected to the ruling, from removing equipment from the building, shutting off the building’s utility service or demolishing the building, said Town Attorney John Tate.

“The town was concerned that equipment was going out of the building and they were preparing for demolition,” Tate said. “On Wednesday, a crane showed up at the hospital and that looked quite ominous to us so we filed for a temporary restraining order that will simply keep the hospital intact while we work out a solution.”

Tate said the order would last until Aug. 25, on which another hearing would be held in Plymouth to determine if the order would be extended or dissolved.

The town’s board unanimously passed a resolution Monday night at an emergency meeting, citing a law passed in 1947 that stipulates the land where the hospital sits in Belhaven can only be used for a hospital. Belhaven Mayor Adam O’Neal said the town will use the law in an attempt to declare eminent domain, which will enable the town to take back the land from Vidant Health and Pantego Creek, LLC.

“This is up to legal debate, but we will pursue this land until we control it,” O’Neal said. “It is essential to obtain the property to get grants to get the hospital going again.”

On Aug. 25, the town will be going back to the judge to try to get a permanent injunction against any more detrimental actions, O’Neal said. In addition to the order, O’Neal says the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is currently investigating the closing of the hospital.

“We hate that it has to come here, but they were about to cut the power off and let our hospital go to molding so it would be demolished by neglect — that’s what they were about to do. This stops that. The whole community can rest now knowing that the hospital is going to be maintained until we can get down the road a little farther, because remember there’s an investigation going on too.”

Tuesday, Vidant Health’s Board of Directors held a special meeting to discuss the future of the closed hospital property. The meeting went into a closed session immediately after its start so the board could speak to their lawyers under attorney client privilege. At the meeting, four representatives from the group ‘Healthy Communities United,’ comprised of citizens and supporters of the campaign to reopen the hospital, presented the board with a binder containing nearly 5,000 digital signatures, which includes that of a state representative, senator and two county commissioners.

Later Tuesday, Vidant released a statement in regards to the temporary restraining order. The statement said “Vidant has filed a motion to move the lawsuit filed last Thursday to Federal court. Vidant vigorously denies all of the allegations in the complaint, and we look forward to the opportunity to present the facts. In the meantime, Vidant Health continues to provide healthcare for Belhaven and the surrounding community at our 24/7 care clinic and at our three family medicine clinics.”