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Belhaven Residents & Town Officials Rally Against Hospital Closing

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Angry, frustrated and concerned at three words that describe residents and officials in Belhaven as they rallied Thursday night after it was announced Wednesday Vidant Pungo Hospital would close and be replaced with a 24-hour multi-purpose clinic.

Hundreds of people crowded around the municipal building downtown to hear speeches from the mayor and other public officials.

Bill Booth said both of his parents are in their 80's and live in Belhaven. He says, "To think that they would have to go from Pantego or Belhaven to Washington or Greenville...it's unimaginable."

Mayor Adam O'Neal said closing of the hospital and opening up a 24-hour clinic will pose big problems. He says, "Now can you imagine your son being in a car accident, and somebody taking him to your local general practitioner? That's not acceptable, and they're not communicating with the community at all."

Jacklyn Sparrow, a recently retired employee, is concerned about her former coworkers at the hospital-90 to 100 of them could be transferred or laid off during the transition. She says, "What about the employees that work here? They can't go anywhere else with other jobs they won't have any way to get there. And it's just heartbreaking."

The rally may not save their hospital, but Mayor O'Neal says it better send a message to those who made the decision to close it down. He says, "I don't want to say we hate them, but what they've done is horrible here. And they need to come to Belhaven and do some PR work."

Vidant's President and CEO said earlier this week that the organization is committed to providing affordable care locally to Belhaven and its surrounding communities. No timetable is set for the construction of the 24-hour clinic.

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The mayor of Belhaven is expecting hundreds of people to turn out to a rally in the town this evening to support the hospital, despite a vote to close the hospital in favor of a new multispecialty clinic.

"They're crippling our town, and they knew they were going to do it when the bought the hospital," Mayor Adam O'Neal tells WITN, calling Vidant Health "a greedy non-profit doing immoral things to pad their bottom line."

O'Neal says he's going forward with the rally to force Vidant to come to the table and talk with officials in Belhaven "instead of shoving this down our throats." O'Neal says he expects hundreds of people to attend.

O'Neal says he's particularly concerned with what people will do in healthcare emergencies during the period after the hospital has closed and before the new clinic has opened. "People who get in car accidents are going to have to go see their local doctor," O'Neal said, instead of visiting an actual emergency room.

The rally in Belhaven starts at 6 p.m. on Main St.

The Vidant Pungo Hospital Board voted this morning to build a new medical facility in or near the town of Belhaven in Beaufort County.

The plans call for a "phased closing" of Vidant Pungo Hospital in the next five to six months.

A Vidant spokeswoman says 127 people work at the hospital. The spokeswoman says the changes will affect 90 to 100 employees, through transfers or job loss.

The board voted to move forward with plans to build a new 24/7 multispeciality care clinic in or around Belhaven.

"Delivering care locally is a vital part of the Vidant Health mission, and we are committed to providing affordable care locally in Belhaven and the surrounding communities," said Dr. David Herman, president and CEO of Vidant Health.

A Vidant news release states officials "knew there must be a long-term plan related to the current facility, due to environmental and structural concerns. The building is more than 60 years old and is located in an area prone to flooding."

Construction on the the new building, which will not have in-patient services, is expected to begin this year and completed within 18 months for a cost of $4 million.

A release states "as services are transferred out of the hospital, they will be offered at local Vidant Medical Group physician practices. These services include radiology, labs, physical therapy, specialty clinics and 24 hour-a-day care."

The facility will also have a helipad access should patients need to be transported to Vidant Medical Center in Greenville, the region's only Level 1 trauma center.


A rally is scheduled for Thursday at 6 p.m. in the Beaufort County town of Belhaven about the future of the hospital there.

The town manager reports the rally is designed to push the hope that Vidant will build a new hospital in the town. The future of the hospital has been up for debate recently, as the building is reportedly in bad shape and there has been talk the hospital could close.

Guinn Leverett, the town manager, said the rally will be held on Main Street, downtown near the municipal building. Vidant Pungo is important to the town, on several levels including health care. But also, for example, it is the largest electric consumer for the town. Leverett reports the hospital was billed $440,000 in utilities in the last 12 months.

The board of directors of Vidant Pungo Hospital has called a special meeting for Wednesday, September 4.

A press release sent by Board Chairman Dr. David C. Herman, President Roger Robertson and Vidant Community Hospitals said : "The purpose of the meeting is to discuss and take action, if appropriate, on certain outpatient health care service alternatives and, if necessary, to go into Closed Session."

We will continue to follow this story and bring you updates.


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