DONE DEAL: Lawsuit against Vidant, Pantego Creek thrown out

Published 8:05 pm Wednesday, October 14, 2015

BELHAVEN — As of Tuesday, the lawsuit brought against Vidant Health and Pantego Creek LLC regarding the closure of the Belhaven hospital has been officially dismissed on all counts.

Reports were given about a week ago regarding Superior Court Judge Stuart Albright’s impending decision to dismiss the claims, but it was not made official until a written order was issued Tuesday granting the motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

Judge Albright’s decision brings the two-year legal battle to an end — a battle that has also involved mediation, Title VI Civil Rights complaints and weaving in and out of state and federal courts.

The Town of Belhaven and the North Carolina NAACP filed the claims alleging breach of contract, fraud, breach of fiduciary duty and unfair trade practices. The claims surround Vidant’s decision to close Vidant Pungo Hospital on July 1, 2014 and turn the property back over to its owners, Pantego Creek LLC.

“Vidant’s commitment to providing health care in Belhaven is steadfast,” said Roger Robertson, president of Vidant Community Hospitals, in a Wednesday press release. “We are here to stay and are making a significant investment, both in people and resources, as we move forward with plans for a new, $5.5 million, 12,000 square-foot, 24/7 health care facility.”

Belhaven officials have accused Vidant of being dishonest about its intent to close the hospital, as well as failing to provide the area with emergency health care, thus putting Belhaven’s poor and minority populations at a disadvantage.

On Oct. 6, all parties met for a hearing at the Beaufort County Courthouse, where legal representatives for Vidant and Pantego Creek argued that the claims should be dismissed, and Belhaven and NAACP attorneys defended the decision to file.

“Part of why we’re here today … is that we’re continually reminded, given the absence of a (hospital), there is no access to emergency health care,” Belhaven attorney Dahmian Blue said in court. “It’s documented that the consequences … are loss of human life.”

Vidant attorneys argued during the court hearing that they had never promised to keep the hospital open and had not abandoned Belhaven since, making strides to provide medical care to the area’s residents.

According to the press release, “Vidant continues to invest in eastern North Carolina through grants and other community health care initiatives. In Beaufort and Hyde counties alone, Vidant has invested more than $1.3 million to upgrade emergency services and to address issues related to access to care, chronic disease prevention and management, nutrition and physical activity, including: Beaufort County EMS $500,000 to upgrade paramedic services in the county, Hyde County EMS $250,000 to upgrade two medical emergency transport vehicles and Washington-Tyrrell EMS $25,000 for a Quick Response Vehicle to assist eastern Beaufort County with emergency calls.”

But Mayor Adam O’Neal expressed his disappointment at Monday night’s Board of Aldermen meeting, saying Vidant has deliberately delayed the court proceedings, and the company’s request for another judge led to an outside-of-the-county, “completely awkward” Judge Albright presiding over the case.

“We have all kinds of things that are wrong,” O’Neal said. “I think it’s important for everyone to understand that, first off, this lawsuit has absolutely nothing to do with the reopening of the hospital.”

Despite his disagreement with the judge’s decision, O’Neal said the town will continue to move forward with its plans to reopen the hospital in Belhaven.

The Town of Belhaven is in the process of obtaining a $6 million loan from the United States Department of Agriculture to help cover the costs of the reopening and has recently won a victory in Raleigh, pushing legislators to define the building as an “existing hospital facility” and eliminate the requirement for a certificate of need. The certificate of need was one of the requirements for obtaining the loan money.

“Every step has been a struggle,” O’Neal said. “We’re going to keep right on pushing. … Everything is moving in a very good manner, and we’re still on course.”

“And we will not be going away.”