Veterans care plan continues, questions remain

Published 8:46 pm Friday, August 19, 2016

BELHAVEN — Efforts to offer veterans care at the Belhaven hospital continue, but officials remain tight-lipped about the progress.

In March, a plan was rolled out to the public detailing Florida-based Strategic Healthcare LLC’s intent to provide 30-35 beds for veterans care upon reopening the hospital. Pantego Creek LLC, which owns the property, agreed to a $1 million sale to Strategic about a month ago, despite initial reluctance and uncertainty of the newly formed company’s viability.

In May, Pungo Medical Center, the nonprofit formed to manage the new facility, gave its notice of intent to acquire and reopen the hospital to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. In June, Strategic Healthcare did the same.

DHHS responded to both by stating neither Pungo Medical Center nor Strategic would need to obtain a certificate of need (essentially a license to run the facility) before acquiring and reopening the hospital within a 36-month time frame.

However, if new services are in the works, a new certificate of need may be needed, according to Kate Murphy, senior manager of media relations at DHHS.

“If a proposal to reopen the hospital includes expansion plans, like the addition of health services regulated by CON law that were not offered prior to its closing, then a CON may be required,” Murphy stated in an email.

Mayor Adam O’Neal maintains that the certificate of need requirement has been taken care of and the plan for veterans care is still on track. Beyond that, O’Neal declined to give any other comments.

Mike Hall, a U.S. Army veteran and Strategic Healthcare LLC affiliate chosen to manage the veterans care plan, also said he had no new information to give on the matter.

DHHS will exempt a facility from a certificate of need review requirement in some cases if acute beds are converted to psychiatric beds, offering mental health, developmental disabilities and substance abuse services. Representatives have spoken in the past about the possibility of providing care to veterans who are victims of post-traumatic stress disorder at the Belhaven facility.

Vidant Pungo Hospital was closed in 2014 due to operating on a deficit. Town officials and some residents have since attempted to obtain the property and reopen the facility through various avenues, including eminent domain proceedings, local rallies and walks to Raleigh and Washington, D.C.