Belhaven hospital’s veterans plan a no-go

Published 7:08 pm Monday, November 7, 2016

BELHAVEN — More problems have arisen for the Belhaven hospital reopening efforts, as plans for veterans care are no longer an option.

Strategic Healthcare LLC, the company formed to introduce veterans care to Belhaven’s hospital upon its reopening, declined to purchase the building, even after it offered property owners Pantego Creek LLC a $1 million deal this summer.

Pantego Creek’s membership voted in support of selling the building, but Strategic didn’t follow through with the deal.

In a Nov. 2 letter to its members, the four Pantego Creek managers wrote: “Your managers believe the demolition and removal of the buildings from the property is the next logical step for Pantego Creek. The buildings are in deplorable condition, and each and every professional inspection and other evaluation of the buildings over the last two years has shown the buildings to be unusable.”

The letter continues: “Your managers believe that the removal of the buildings is necessary so that the property may be used for other purposes. Until the buildings are removed, it is difficult to determine the best uses for the property as the buildings in their current status are significant impediments to any meaningful use.”

Pantego Creek has asked its members to vote via a mailed form regarding the demolition of the buildings, and responses must be returned by Nov. 10.

Pantego Creek attorney Arey Grady III said Strategic Healthcare’s reasoning had to do with its uncertainty on the buildings’ condition.

“The reason given to us was that the buyer was unwilling to proceed with the purchase without an engineering evaluation regarding the status of the buildings. As in whether they should be removed and a new building constructed, or whether the buildings could be economically renovated,” Grady said.

He said Pantego Creek and the Town of Belhaven already completed evaluations in the past, but these evaluations weren’t satisfactory to Strategic.

“I cannot tell you what more they needed, or why other work wasn’t sufficient, to be honest,” Grady said.

Strategic Healthcare project manager Mike Hall could not be reached for comment.

Belhaven Mayor Adam O’Neal said he thinks the four LLC managers are trying their hardest to have the building torn down, and hospital supporters intend to fight the proposal.

“The hospital was built and run based on investments by state, federal and local tax dollars, as well as local donations. The existence of the hospital is totally the efforts of the community,” O’Neal said. “Instead of working with the community to open the hospital back up, these people are undermining those efforts.”

He said Belhaven officials are still hoping the U.S. Justice Department will look at the situation, and officials continue to look at options for reopening the hospital facility.

“These four people and the LLC need to do the right thing and deed the hospital to the community,” O’Neal said. “We will fight to prevent the tear down of the hospital.”

After Vidant Pungo Hospital closed July 1, 2014 after operating on a deficit, Belhaven officials and some residents have fought to reopen the facility through various avenues, including obtaining the land via eminent domain, court lawsuits against Vidant Health and Pantego Creek, a $6 million USDA loan to assist with reopening costs, and most recently, the plan for obtaining resources through a veterans care plan.

Although Vidant has been accused of undermining reopening efforts, the medical group maintains that it is still committed to the health care of residents in Belhaven and is not guilty of any wrongdoing in its decision to close Vidant Pungo.

“The devastation to our community if this building is allowed to be torn down is horrific,” O’Neal said.