Town to seek eminent domain for hospital property

Published 3:21 pm Sunday, March 15, 2015

BELHAVEN — The Town of Belhaven is gearing up to pursue eminent domain in its efforts to reacquire Pungo District Hospital.

In a special called meeting of the hospital’s new board, Pungo Medical Center, Inc., Belhaven Mayor Adam O’Neal gave updates on the hospital situation and provided background information — a timeline of sorts — to refresh the memory of those in attendance.

At the meeting, O’Neal said the town plans to pursue eminent domain to get the hospital property back. A 100-foot-wide streak that runs through the hospital itself belongs to the town, and due to a law passed in 1947, stipulating the land where the hospital sits in Belhaven can only be used for a hospital, the Town feels the land and property should be returned to them, O’Neal said. In August, at a town council meeting, the council said the town would use the law in an attempt to declare eminent domain, enabling the town to take the land back from Pantego Creek, LLC. The third-party group represents the old Pungo District Hospital membership and was created to protect the interests of the former membership corporation, which took over operation of the hospital in Oct. 2011.

“The town is simply going to claim what is rightfully ours and use eminent domain on the rest of the parcels,” O’Neal said.

In September, the Town and the NC NAACP reopened its Title 6 Civil Rights complaint against Vidant Health and Pantego Creek LLC. The complaint was originally filed during the summer when Vidant closed the hospital, but was removed due to federal mediation by the U.S Justice Department. However, the complaint was reinstated late last year after the Town felt the mediation agreement had not been upheld by Vidant and the LLC.

O’Neal said pending an application for a $6 million USDA loan to reopen the hospital, Pantego Creek LLC is the only thing standing in the way of the town and the new board moving forward with reopening the hospital. On March 10, the LLC’s four managing members — Deb Sparrow, Brantley Tillman, Lynn Ross and Darren Armstrong — sent out a letter to the nonprofit’s membership, asking for support in selling the 0.56-acre-lot adjacent to the hospital to a LLC member for $100,000. The letter stated, “One of the issues we have grappled with in recent months is the lack of funding for our LLC. The initial funding of the LLC in 2011, from the assets of the old Pungo District Hospital Corporation, is now exhausted. The primary expense over the last 18 months has been legal fees, which unfortunately cannot be avoided in situations such as these, particularly since the Town decided to file a lawsuit against us.”

O’Neal said the town feels the LLC is attempting to keep the hospital from being reopened by the Town and the hospital’s new board.

“The LLC is running out of money,” O’Neal said. “They are now wanting to sell a piece of hospital property to raise $100,000 to fight the town from being able to take the hospital back. More people are dying. (The town) will do whatever it takes to reestablish our hospital and emergency room care.”

The new hospital board, consisting of seven voting members and three nonvoting members — O’Neal, who will serve as chairman; Hood Richardson, a Beaufort County Commissioner, who will serve as vice-chairman; Eunice Williams, a Hyde County resident and Belhaven business owner, who will serve as secretary; Scott Ellis, a pharmacist in Belhaven; Jim Madson, Beaufort County Health Department Health Director; Archie Green, a retired educator from Hyde County; and Dick Ray, a retired banker with Southern Bank — recently inked a deal with a company out of Florida to manage the hospital upon its reopening.

New Frontier Hospitals, made up of a pair of healthcare and hospital management professionals — James Stanger and David Burns — will assume management of the hospital, pending a $6 million USDA loan the town applied for months ago. The monies secured through the loan will go toward equipment needed to operate the hospital, as well as working capital to reopen it.