Vidant Health Offers $1 Million To Support Transition For Pungo Hospital

New details have been released in the deal to keep Vidant Pungo Hospital open three more months. Meanwhile, the town is working towards a long-term solution.

The NAACP, town of Belhaven and Vidant Health held a signing ceremony Thursday night. The community was invited to learn more about the deal.

Vidant Health will provide $1 million and will help search for new managers as a rural North Carolina community works to keep its local hospital open.

Belhaven and Vidant Health Systems hope their new efforts and combined $3 million will keep the hospital open beyond July.

Vidant Health provided the following release:

Belhaven, NC – At a community meeting at Vidant Pungo Hospital in Belhaven, Dr. David Herman, president and CEO of Vidant Health, unveiled more details about the agreement to keep Vidant Pungo Hospital open and to transfer ownership of the hospital to the Belhaven community. Vidant Health will continue to support the hospital through June 30, 2014 and will provide the community with both technical support and financial aid to facilitate the transfer of ownership.

Vidant Health also:

• Offered $1 million to support the hospital after the transfer is completed, if the Beaufort County Commissioners contribute their proposed $2 million now under discussion by the county.
• Offered to assist the community with the search for a new management company and pay reasonable management fees for those services for up to 90 days.
• Offered to continue to operate the Vidant Family Medicine clinics in Belhaven during the transition period.
• And in the event that the community cannot assume day-to-day operations on July 1, 2014, Vidant Health will extend the operating hours of the existing primary care practice in Belhaven to a 24/7 schedule to provide urgent care services.

Dr. David Herman said, “We at Vidant Health have made extraordinary efforts to support health care in the Belhaven area since we took over Vidant Pungo Hospital in 2011.”

• The new hospital will be free of any long-term debt because Vidant Health paid off all of the debt ($1.6 million) of Pungo Hospital in 2011.
• Vidant Health spent more than $2.3 million on an electronic health record system for the hospital.
• Vidant Health spent over $1 million on repairs and equipment to keep the hospital operational.
• Since 2011, Vidant Health has provided more than $2.3 million in uncompensated health care in the Belhaven area.

Dr. Herman went on to say “Vidant Health is one of the best health care systems in the country. Our physicians, nurses, and other staff working for our hospitals and clinics are dedicated to their patients and to the communities they serve. We are professional health care providers. We must think in terms of what is best for our patients and what is the best way to provide care to the entire community. We also know that health care is expensive, and must consider the most efficient and affordable ways of providing health care services.

Our extensive analysis found that closing Vidant Pungo Hospital and building a new $4.2 million, 12,000 square-foot multispecialty clinic would offer the residents of Belhaven and surrounding areas a sustainable model of health care. We strongly believe this; however, we recognize the elected officials in the town of Belhaven and the county would like the opportunity to try to keep the hospital in Belhaven open.”

Vidant Health remains focused on its mission and is committed to providing the best health care options for the people in Belhaven and the region.

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Details of the agreement to keep Vidant Pungo Hospital open an extra three-months while the town works on a long term solution will be detailed Thursday.

The NAACP and the "Forward Together" moral movement are marking the Vidant Pungo extension with a signing ceremony.

The Beaufort and Hyde County branches of the NAACP, the town of Belhaven, and Vidant Health, will sign an agreement to keep Vidant Pungo Hospital open for through June.

Vidant Health Systems and the NAACP reached the agreement last week, just days before hospital was set to close.

The community meeting and signing ceremony will be held Thursday at 6:00 pm at the hospital.

The public is invited to come out to learn more about the agreement.

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Vidant Health Systems and the NAACP say they have reached an agreement to keep the troubled Vidant Pungo Hospital open for three more months.

That agreement comes after talks between the two groups and the town of Belhaven which were mediated by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Vidant Pungo Hospital was scheduled to close in five days.

Mayor Adam O'Neal says the agreement will give the town additional time to raise another $1 million so Beaufort County will make good on their $2 million loan to help keep the hospital open for good.

Over the next three months, Vidant says it will work with the community to help them establish a representative community-based board that will accept full operating control of the hospital in a transfer by July 1st.

The hospital system notified employees that they will keep their positions through June 30th, "and we hope virtually all of them will retain their positions when the newly-formed Pungo District Hospital Board takes over the operation of the hospital by that date," according to a news release.

O'Neal said more details of the agreement will be released next week during a news conference.

Vidant announced it was closing the hospital in Belhaven last year because it was losing too much money. They planned to replace it with a 24-hour clinic.

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The NAACP has instituted a media blackout on mediation talks over the closing of Vidant Pungo Hospital.

Sarah Bufkin, North Carolina NAACP Media Coordinator said both sides in the dispute agreed not to speak with the news media during talks on Thursday.

The NAACP and others, including the town of Belhaven, are opposed to Vidant Health System's decision to close the hospital on April 1st in favor of a 24-hour clinic.

The two sides met again on Friday, but Bufkin would not say when additional talks are scheduled because of the blackout agreement.

The civil rights group filed a Title VI complaint to stop the closure.

The U.S. Justice Department volunteered to host the mediation. This offer comes on the heels of the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners offering $2,000,000, if specific conditions are met, towards the effort of saving Belhaven's hospital.

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An important day is ahead for a town desperately fighting to keep its hospital doors open.

Mediation between Vidant Health and the NAACP begins Thursday regarding the looming shutdown of Vidant Pungo Hospital in Belhaven.

The civil rights group filed a Title VI complaint to stop the closure, which Vidant has slated for April 1st.

The U.S. Justice Department volunteered to host the mediation. This offer comes on the heels of the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners offering $2,000,000, if specific conditions are met, towards the effort of saving Belhaven's hospital.

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On a 4 to 3 vote, Beaufort County commissioners on Friday decided to loan $2 million to help purchase Vidant Pungo Hospital.

The vote came during an emergency meeting of commissioners.

Earlier this week, Belhaven Mayor Adam O'Neal asked the county for $3 million to help buy the facility and keep it open.

Commissioners Hood Richardson, Gary Brinn, Stan Deatherage, and Robert Belcher voted for the loan. Voting against the deal were Commissioners Al Klemm, Jerry Langley, and Ed Booth.
We could soon learn the outcome of several days of mediation between Vidant Health, the NAACP and leaders in Belhaven about the looming closure of Vidant Pungo Hospital.

Vidant Health had planned to close the aging hospital on April 1 with plans to build a multicare specialty clinic in the Beaufort County town in the coming months. The change has been met with fierce opposition in the community.

The Department of Justice offered to host mediation talks between Vidant Health and the NAACP after it filed a complaint. Those talks began last week and continued through Wednesday.

Mayor Adam O'Neal told WITN that they had a "good session" Wednesday and made progress. O'Neal also said a media release should be expected Thursday morning. A spokeswoman for the NAACP also told WITN to expect a statement about the mediation talks.

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The county's deal requires the town of Belhaven and Hyde County to come up with the rest of the remaining money needed to keep the hospital open. Vidant Health Systems says it will close the Belhaven facility on April 1st.

Beaufort County says it will act as a funding source if Belhaven can get the rest of the funding in place.

The county would also set up a hospital tax for the eastern part of Beaufort County, so if the hospital fails the tax would remain in place to repay the loan.

In a statement, Roger Robertson, President of Vidant Community Hospitals said, "Vidant Health has been proud to provide health care and be an integral part of the communities in eastern Beaufort and Hyde counties over the years, and we look forward to continuing that relationship. Based on the mandate issued by the Pantego Creek, LLC last month, Vidant Health is moving forward with plans to implement the membership’s desire for the new multispecialty clinic in Belhaven."

“While the multispecialty clinic is being built, 24/7 health care services will be available at the Haslin Street Vidant Family Medicine practice and health care services will also be available at the other two Vidant Family Medicine practices in downtown Belhaven," continued Robertson. "Land for the new clinic has been purchased in Belhaven and the design phase is completed. We are seeking cooperation from the township regarding zoning.”

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Beaufort County commissioners will meet in emergency session Friday to discuss the impending closing of Vidant Pungo Hospital.

Earlier this week, Belhaven Mayor Adam O'Neal asked the county for $3 million to help buy the facility and keep it open.

Vidant Health Systems says it will close the hospital on April 1st, and open up a round-the-clock clinic instead.

Commissioners set up a three member committee to look at O'Neal's plan.

Commissioner Hood Richardson, who headed up the group, told WITN they met today and decided the emergency meeting needed to happen because Vidant is closing the hospital so soon. He would only say the three of them have a proposal to give to the full Board of Commissioners.

That meeting will be held Friday afternoon at 2:00 p.m.

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A community forum for the future of Belhaven's Vidant Pungo Hospital was held Tuesday night.

Over 100 people attended the forum, held at the Civic Center in Belhaven, just a day after the Beaufort County Commissioners met.

Belhaven Mayor Adam O'Neal said roughly 20 people spoke about the importance of a local emergency room.

North Carolina NAACP President Rev. Dr. William Barber is set to speak with Senator Kay Hagan in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday.

Barber said the Civil Rights Department is gathering information and that they've contacted the U.S. Justice Department for possible help in postponing the closing. We're told a federal investigator has been assigned the case.

The hospital is scheduled to close April 1st.

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Time is running out for Belhaven to save its hospital, and now its mayor is reaching out to the county for help.

Belhaven Mayor Adam O'Neal feels the town could run the Pungo Hospital if they were able to gain control of it from Vidant. He unveiled his business plan at the Beaufort County Commissioners meeting Monday night.

Mayor O'Neal had the organization "Rural Community Hospitals" formulate a business plan for the hospital, if the town were to take control of it. To break even for fiscal year 2014, the projected asking price needed from Beaufort county is 3 million dollars.

O'Neal says, "We have a business plan that shows it will work and it can actually be profitable. So for people to say no wonder they're closing the hospital it loses millions of dollars. No, it wouldn't lose millions of dollars."

On Monday, O'Neal asked the Beaufort County's Commissioners to hop on board with the funds.

O'Neal says, "I hope if the county gets involved, those people on the LLC membership, I'm hoping they'll reconsider what they did, and I'm 99% sure they will."

He's referring to the Pantego Creek LLC, which recently voted against taking legal action against Vidant to save the hospital.

Beaufort County Commissioner Hood Richardson says this vision is a long shot. He says, "They still are going to need some cooperation from Vidant, or a court order, an injunction telling them not to stop running the hospital until the transition can be made. So there are plenty of hurdles to overcome in this process."

Richardson has been down this road before when the county owned the hospital in Washington that was losing money.

Richardson says, "We're pretty, pretty fractured when it comes to going back and doing the same thing again. We don't want to make that same mistake again."

But Monday night a 3-man committee of commissioners, lead by Richardson, agreed to look into O'Neal's plan.

Richardson says, "We're going to need to see collateral, we're going to need to see a way to protect the county's money, and we're going to need to see a way that this whole thing may be successful in the running of this hospital."

Richardson says the fact that Vidant is set to close the hospital so soon, on April 1st, makes this situation even more difficult.

Mayor O'Neal says one of the major expenses the hospital would cut down is the staff. He says the business plan shows that the hospital could run efficiently with just 55 employees, instead of the 129 it was previously using.