Josh Birch reports for Ch. 9 news out of Greenville:
The DHHS has accepted the Title VI complaint Belhaven filed against Vidant and Pantego Creek LLC. This means a full investigation will be completed by the DHHS on whether the closing of Vidant Pungo hospital has displayed unlawful discrimination based on race and national origin.
The information came in a letter sent to NAACP lawyer Al McSurely from DHHS regional manager Timothy Noonan.
"The other part in this letter that's important is that the office is committed to resolving this matter in an efficient and timely manner," McSurely said.
Title VI prohibits an organization receiving federal financial assistance to discriminate against people based on race. In the letter, the DHHS said that since Vidant receives Medicaid and Medicare, they have to comply with these statutes and regulations.
This comes after Vidant released a statement saying it is encouraging the LLC to transfer the hospital to the town.
In that statement, Vidant CEO Dr. David Herman said, "I understand that you recently extended an offer to lease the property at nominal rent to town representatives who have since responded that they expect the LLC to convey the title to the hospital property to them. As we discussed last week, I strongly encourage you to consider such a request."
This breakthrough doesn't come as a surprise for O'Neal.
"Vidant is starting to see that we're going to court and we're serious," said Belhaven Mayor Adam O'Neal. "We're not going to be negotiating a lot unless they come with some real numbers."
Even if the town gets the hospital back, McSurely says they won't stop the NAACP from pursuing the already existing lawsuits against Vidant in court.
"That does not deal with the damages that have been done, economic damages to the town, damages to the health care," McSurely said.
Although signs seem to be pointing to a re-opening of Pungo hospital, O'Neal says he doesn't trust Vidant for a minute.
"Vidant is out here playing games with what medical services mean, and it would mean the difference in having a car and a horse,” O'Neal said. “They took our car and gave us a horse, and they're saying we're providing transportation, be happy, smile at us. But they took our car, and this horse isn't doing the job."
To see our report on how Pantego Creek LLC appears to be splintering, click here.