Top 10 Stories 2016: Belhaven’s hospital building demolished

Published 7:46 pm Friday, December 30, 2016

BELHAVEN — The fight over what to do with an old hospital building and the recent demolition of it is the top story of 2016.

It’s been a long haul for Belhaven’s Save Our Hospital campaign, as well as for Pantego Creek LLC, which owns the property, but the battle came to a head this week when Superior Court Judge Gregory P. McGuire denied a motion for a preliminary injunction to prevent the building’s demolition.

Eight members of Pantego Creek LLC, which owns the property, spurred the preliminary injunction request to prevent demolition after filing complaints against the LLC’s four managers. The complaints alleged LLC members were given misleading information in an effort to sway them to vote in favor of demolishing the old building. Pantego Creek’s membership voted for the demolition in mid-November.

Superior Court Judge Cy Grant issued a temporary restraining order on Nov. 28 until the complaints were heard in court. McGuire heard arguments Dec. 21 at Wake County Courthouse, but continued the case until after Christmas. McGuire ultimately ruled in favor of the Pantego Creek managers.

Although some blamed the managers for withholding the property, they maintained that any decisions would be made based on a vote of the entire membership. The managers rejected multiple offers for the property, stating that each one proved to be less than the property’s worth.

The demolition of the decades-old hospital building signaled the end of a two-and-a-half-year fight to reopen the facility after Vidant Health closed it on July 1, 2014.

Save Our Hospital campaign supporters and town officials have looked for various avenues to reopen the hospital, but failed to obtain the property.

In March, the town debuted a new plan to incorporate veterans’ care at the new hospital, contracting with People’s Choice Hospital Management Group and its subsidiary Strategic Healthcare LLC. Strategic Healthcare originally presented a $1 million offer to Pantego Creek for the property, but withdrew its offer for unknown reasons.

With a growing fear of the building’s demolition, supporters set up a campsite in front of the property in April to keep watch over the property for 24 hours a day.

In the meantime, work on Vidant’s 24-hour multispecialty clinic continued and reached completion in June. When the hospital closed in 2014, Vidant agreed to build the immediate care facility on West Old County Road.

With a price tag of more than $6 million, the clinic offers ultrasound technology, physical therapy, X-ray capabilities, lab workspaces, cardiology consults, prenatal care, on-site health coach and regular primary care, to name several.

“For Vidant, continuing to operate an out-of-date facility that was in need of major repairs, under a traditional inpatient model of care, did not provide a sustainable solution for health care for Belhaven or for the broader community,” Christine Mackey, Vidant communications manager, said this week. “In June, we opened a new, 24/7, state-of-the-art, health care facility that includes a helicopter landing pad in Belhaven. Since its opening, Vidant’s doctors, nurses and other health care providers have had more than 14,000 patient visits, evidence that the Belhaven’s new multispecialty clinic is the right approach for health care in this community.”

Some residents viewed the clinic is merely a glorified doctor’s office and argued the town needed its hospital back.

In mid-July, a $6 million loan from the United States Department of Agriculture to help with reopening costs expired, dealing another blow to the Save Our Hospital efforts.

The state NAACP, however, continued its show of support throughout 2016, attending several rallies in the town, and Belhaven Mayor Adam O’Neal made trips to Raleigh and Washington, D.C., in an effort to raise support for the cause. The N.C. NAACP has filed multiple complaints regarding the Belhaven hospital, alleging that Vidant’s closure of it was discriminatory against a poor and minority population.

Despite the ongoing efforts, the former Vidant Pungo Hospital was largely reduced to a pile of rubble on Friday, less than two days after demolition began.

O’Neal said he is looking at other options for what to do next, but he declined to give details. There is no word on what Pantego Creek plans to do with the property.