Latest offer for hospital building not a done deal

Published 4:48 pm Saturday, May 28, 2016

BELHAVEN — The fight over Belhaven’s hospital building continues to rage.

Officials from Belhaven and the state NAACP held a press conference Saturday morning to announce that Pantego Creek LLC, which owns the building, is considering a $1 million deal brought forth by Strategic Health Care, a newly formed LLC that plans to incorporate veterans’ care into the business plan if the hospital reopens.

However, Brantley Tillman, one of the four LLC managers, said that information is not true.

Tillman said Pantego Creek was given a document, but the managers could not find a listing for Strategic Health Care and the document was not signed. He said the managers do not consider it to be a valid offer.

“This community doesn’t need an option if somebody has a heart attack,” said the Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP, on Saturday. “Regardless of skin color and regardless of political affiliation, when you care about life over death, that brings you together.”

This latest discrepancy is yet another factor in the years-long fight of some Belhaven residents to reopen the formerly named Vidant Pungo Hospital, which closed in 2014 due to deficits. To obtain a $6 million loan from the United States Department of Agriculture to help with reopening costs, the town must first secure the property, which it has attempted to do for months, first via eminent domain laws.

HATS AND BUTTONS: The Belhaven branch of the Raging Grannies performed a song about reopening the town’s hospital.

HATS AND BUTTONS: The Belhaven branch of the Raging Grannies performed a song about reopening the town’s hospital.

O’Neal also announced Saturday morning that the Federal Trade Commission is opening an investigation of Vidant Health, due to hospital supporters’ allegations that Vidant is attempting to monopolize healthcare in the town and prevent the hospital’s reopening.

Vidant communications manager Christine Mackey was not available to confirm or comment on the investigation.

“It looks as though we’re about to realize our goal,” O’Neal said Saturday. “We’re going to give them (Pantego Creek) the opportunity to do the right thing.”

Despite ongoing criticism from Belhaven officials and some residents, Vidant maintains that it is committed to healthcare in the area. Its $6 million, 12,000-square-foot multispecialty clinic is set to open June 20, offering 24-hour care, lab equipment, X-ray facilities and a helipad for emergency cases.

In a previous interview, Dr. Mark Rumans, chief medical officer at Vidant Health, said the clinic is a way of “ensuring that the people in Belhaven and the surrounding communities have access to high-quality care for the long-term, sustainable needs of the community.”

The Rev. Barber said Belhaven’s hospital has a history of serving people despite their race or socioeconomic status, and he hopes that legacy can continue, especially through helping veterans.

“We have an emergency here,” he said. “Don’t just wave a flag (for Memorial Day). Open up the hospital.”

Pantego Creek LLC lawyer Arey Grady III did not respond to a request for comment.