After a day of outrage from the residents of Belhaven after losing their battle to reopen the closed Vidant Pungo Hospital and watching it be demolished overnight, now the NC NAACP president is speaking out, saying more state and federal leaders should have worked to protect the health care of the poor in the town.
"Demolition of the Pungo Hospital is an ominous sign of what's happening in America's moral and political psyche," says Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II.
He places blame with the state legislature to Gov. Pat McCrory, calls the removal of judges in the case "suspicious" and even blames Congress for not stepping in to save the hospital.
The hospital's demolition began Wednesday night after a judge ruled against the town and called the hospital a safety hazard. It's been closed since 2014.
You can read Dr, Barber's full statement below:
"December 29 2016 is a tragic day for health care and hospital access for poor Black, White and Latino people in Belhaven, NC, and America. Demolition of the Pungo Hospital is an ominous sign of what's happening in America's moral and political psyche. We have lost our way when health care is destroyed and not saved. The Mayor, citizens of Belhaven, many others, our lawyers and the NC NAACP fought a righteous fight.
"Blame should be laid at the feet of every state leader from Gov. McCrory all the way down to State Legislators who denied Medicaid Expansion and refused to fight to save this hospital. Especially those elected Legislators from the area. Blame should be laid at the desk of the Congress people and the US Senators who did not stand up against the Demolition of a hospital in their state. Blame should be laid at the feet of the board members at Vidant who chose to accept distorted truths about profits over the dignity of people's lives.
"The blame should be laid on the legal system that had judges removed from the case in ways that were deeply suspicious. The blame should be laid at every clergy persons feet charged to stand with and for the poor who were sadly silent and who will now possibly have to bury persons who die from lack of access to emergency room and hospital care.
"The question now is who will hear the cry of the community and help them get and regain the health service they once had. Or will this community be written off?"
Belhaven Mayor Adam O'Neal is asking those who fought to re-open the former Vidant Pungo Hospital to remain calm now that the building is being demolished.
Demolition of the former hospital started Wednesday after a judge ruled against the town.
In the court documents obtained by WITN, the court decided to deny the town's motion for preliminary injunction to prevent demolition.
In the ruling, Judge Gregory McGuire says, "The Hospital has been closed for two and one-half years. During that time, no viable means of reopening and operating the Hospital has been found, despite efforts by Pantego Creek, LLC, the Town of Belhaven, and concerned area citizens. The Hospital building is now in a dire state of disrepair and has become a potential hazard to the community. The balance of the equities, at this time, leans in favor of permitting Defendants to carry out the duly approved will of the members of Pantego Creek that the building be demolished so that Pantego Creek can move forward with determining how it can best provide value to the community through alternative uses of the property."
You can read the entire ruling in the document attached to this web story.
Town and community groups have worked since the hospital closed in 2014 to buy the building and reopen it as a health facility.
O'Neal said, "We did everything we could do. We had to fight it. We were fighting for people's lives."
O'Neal went on to say he wants people to remain calm and not to retaliate against members of Pantego Creek LLC.
Pantego Creek, LLC haD rejected past offers to buy the property.
O'Neal also said there are plans to bring a hospital back to Belhaven but nothing specific to mention at this time.
Vidant Health did open a state of the art multi-specialty clinic in Belhaven earlier this year.