Part 2 of Story of America's series at http://www.storyofamerica.org/belhaven1 | NOTE: Vidant Health declined to be interviewed for this web series, and declined our offer to submit a statement on this issue.
Vidant Health, a system of hospitals serving 29 counties in eastern North Carolina, announced six months ago that it would be closing the Vidant Pungo Hospital in Belhaven, NC, which they had purchased two years earlier. Vidant has announced plans to close the hospital on April 1st and demolish the building. It plans to build a new 24-hour clinic with a helipad, but without emergency care.
The closest hospital with emergency care would be Vidant Beaufort Hospital in Washington, NC which is located 31 miles (on two-lane rural roads) away from Vidant Pungo Hospital. In life-threatening emergencies such as car accidents or strokes, adding 31 miles would have fatal consequence. From the center of Hyde County which is currently served by Vidant Pungo
Hospital, it's a 90-minute to 2-hour drive to Vidant Beaufort Hospital.
When Vidant Health bought the community hospital which opened in 1948 from Pantego Creek, LLC, it signed a contract promising that the hospital would remain open, and to improve services.
At the time of the purchase, Pungo Hospital was losing 1 million dollars a year. After Vidant took it over, it was losing 2 million dollars a year.
According to Vidant Health and other experts, the NC General Assembly's decision to reject Medicaid expansion made matters worse. Pungo Hospitals serves people in two counties -- Beaufort and Hyde -- among the poorest in the state.
Vidant claims that it could not make the Pungo Hospital viable due to the building's deteriorated state and the lack of revenue. This assessment is fiercely disputed by Dr. Charles Boyette, the hospital's former chief of staff, former mayor and town physician and Mayor Adam O'Neal among others.
Mayor O'Neal believes that Vidant Health never intended to improve the management of Vidant Pungo Hospital to make it more efficient and had planned to close it down from the outset, shifting patients now served by Pungo Hospital to Vidant's larger hospitals in Washington and Greenville. Because Vidant owns all the hospitals in the area, O'Neal believes that Vidant knows that people will have to go to one of their hospitals anyway and closing one would reduce the cost of maintaining the facilities.