Putting survivorship over a healthy community

Published 7:13 pm Friday, August 23, 2019

Written by Michael Bilbro

Here we go again. Vidant is closing another service in Beaufort County.

Am I surprised? Absolutely not. But why? Why am I not surprised by this latest, calamitous move of Vidant Health? Could it be, like the familiarity of changing seasons or the capriciousness of a spoiled child, I have, like you, become accustomed to similar decisions during Vidant’s limited tenure in Beaufort County, conditioning the rational mind toward passivity and tolerance? And the list is growing, evidenced by last month’s announcement of the closing of another behavioral health service, a correspondence not from the experienced computer keys of our hospital president, but from a detached, almost casual response from hospital marketing; an irresponsible transmittal, communicating another service in Beaufort County placed in the hyperbolic green, curbside cans of Vidant, another indispensable and crucial service, closing, left on the side of the street. Common trash is treated with more esteem and reverence.

So why should I care? Why would I have, or even more appropriately, deserve a voice? Well my opinion is we as citizens and community members deserve a voice — especially in today’s climate, evidenced by the recent travesties across the nation. However, my 14 years administering the behavioral health unit on the fourth floor of Vidant Beaufort most certainly affords me the voice; a voice that will hopefully deter, dissuade and prevent these pathetic, outrageous and absurd decisions from continuing.

My leadership role began in 2004. I oversaw the behavioral health unit, procured millions for indigent care, outpatient and crisis management services (a service in Vidant’s growing cemetery of care), attained a grant to assist the severe and persistent mentally ill with emergent care, and had the pleasure and honor to oversee the care of more than 11,000 patients on the soon-to-be-closed inpatient program, a program honored in 2015 as the best inpatient psychiatric program, out of 110 hospitals, in the nation. Didn’t know about it? Of course, you didn’t. And let me preface this acknowledgement far from my leadership. It was a group of talented, dedicated, empathetic staff, comprised of nurses, nursing assistants, therapists and many others that did not seek such an accolade, yet deserved every piece of its recognition, an ensemble tossed aside by a “not-for-profit” system for transitory reasons, including hubris, inflated perceptions and stretched pockets. Again, I ask, as a community, how can we and how long will we allow these behaviors to continue?

A similar decision was made 10 years ago: close the unit. Well, it didn’t happen. We worked together, envisaging a contract at the time to place the risk outside of the hospital and on the contractual company, most, if not all, financial risk absorbed by the vendor, alleviating multiple financial burdens from the hospital. A good deal? Certainly.

Well, Vidant Beaufort, in a more recent folly, in the fall of 2017, decided to terminate that contract. Why? Why would a hospital, that had limited financial risk, terminate a contract? This is extremely important and at the root of the forthcoming closure. Unfortunately, the answer is greed and hubris, and lack of control, each encroaching upon autocratic ideology.

Now, your executives at Vidant will argue, stating they were losing copious amounts of money even in the face of financial risk reduction — and they would be, in some degree, correct. However, it would be in the form of extremely poor decisions in physician recruitment, attainment and retention, which the contract management company was not involved with, even though they were more than happy to assist with — yet turned down. And I will be happy to debate the contrary with any Vidant “executive” free from pitiful, trivial, self-endorsed displays that place financial paranoia and survivorship over the balance of a healthy community.

Washington, you had a viable service, painted with a brush of limited financial risk. However, your local healthcare leadership placed hubris over the betterment of a community. And like the fleeting freeze of glacier ice, should we decide to remain dormant and unalloyed, Vidant Beaufort, by our acceptance, condonement and tolerative attitude, will continue to make similar decisions, which will ultimately drown us in the same historical melt.

However, per observation, and almost bewilderment, paradoxically, we continue to allow unfavorable behaviors by those that are not only highly experienced and educated, but “know” better. Nevertheless, my experience and condition, courage embraced by a strong Washington, will still scream the contrary. Yet, it is in this latest decision that my screams are becoming wisps of frustration, a deterioration of hope that will ultimately dilute the soup we call home, thinning Washington’s broth, creating stock instead of substance.

We are better, and we most certainly deserve better.