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Rally held to protest closing of Vidant Pungo Hospital

By Jamie Hicks
Published On: Sep 03 2013 11:02:44 PM CDT
Updated On: Sep 05 2013 11:56:43 PM CDT

More than hundred residents gathered on Main Street in Belhaven on Thursday, to rally against the decision to close Vidant Pungo Hospital.

BELHAVEN, BEAUFORT COUNTY -

More than hundred residents gathered on Main Street in Belhaven on Thursday, to rally against the decision to close Vidant Pungo Hospital.

On Wednesday, the Board of Directors of Vidant Pungo Hospital announced they voted unanimously to shut down the facility.

Vidant Health officials said the decision stems from the facility's age and financial problems. The building is more than 60 years old and had a nearly $1.8 million deficit last year, Vidant Health stated. In addition, the hospital is located at a flood-prone area.

The board decided to close the current hospital in the next five or six months and build a new 24/7 Vidant multi-specialty clinic in or near Belhaven. The new facility is projected to cost $4.3 million and expected to be completed within 18 months.

Jacklyn Sparrow is a former employee of Vidant Pungo Hospital and retired after 46 years last year.

"It’s [the hospital] saves so many lives and it's crazy to get rid of it. It's just heartbreaking," Sparrow said.

Sparrow said she is concerned about the 90 plus employees that might lose their jobs.

"What about the employees that works there? They can't go anywhere else for other jobs, they don't have any way to get there," she said.

According to the board, about 127 employees currently work at Vidant Pungo Hospital. About 90 to 100 people might get laid off because of the facility's closing. But the board said they will try to find transfers for some of the employees.

Martha Canady said her father worked at the hospital for 20 years, and her 96-year-old mother relies on the hospital's care.

"There are a lot of elderly people in this community and they don't have a way or ride to get to Washington to a doctor, or god forbids an emergency," she said.

The hospital in Belhaven will undergo a phased closing in the next five to six months, according to Vidant Health. Services transferred out of the hospital will be offered at local Vidant Medical Group physician practices, including radiology, labs, physical therapy, specialty clinics, and 24-hours-a-day care.

Arthur Bonner said the town will continue to fight to keep the facility. At the rally residents passed around a petition to try and get the hospital to reconsider their decision to close the facility.

"It’s no too late. They haven't closed it down yet, and until they do there is still a chance to salvage the hospital," he said.

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People in the Belhaven community are concerned that their local healthcare facility, Vidant Pungo Hospital, may close its doors or relocate. We are learning of some possible changes for the hospital, after the facility was reported in bad shape and losing money.

The Board of Directors of Vidant Pungo Hospital will hold a special meeting Wednesday at 9 a.m. to discuss the future of the facility.  Vidant Health officials said the hospital had a nearly $1.8 million deficit last year. The facility opened its doors in 1947.

Tammica Winfield said with a sick mother who needs hospital care, she can't take that chance. If Vidant Pungo hospital closes its doors, the nearest option for care would be Vidant Beaufort in Washington, and Washington County Hospital in Plymouth. Both hospitals are a half-hour drive from Belhaven.

"It means a lot to the community and it means a lot to the people on the outside of the community. A lot of people who can't make it to Washington or Greenville they come from all around to use this hospital," Winfield said.

Mayor of Belhaven, Adam O’Neal said, he is shocked that the hospital officials have not communicated with the town in anyway.

"We know very little about what is going on and when we ask they simply say no decision has been made," he said.

Mayor O’Neal said if the hospital shuts its doors, approximately 100 people will lose their jobs.

“The hospital is so important to this community it serves about 25,000 people, and to take that hospital and cut their services to people in the area is something that is a great concern to everybody," he said.

The Mayor said a rally is scheduled for Thursday at 6 p.m. downtown near the municipal building. He said he hopes supporters will voice their concerns on why Vidant should build a new hospital, and not shut down or relocate the current facility.

The hospital is the largest consumer of public utilities in the town of Belhaven and shutting it down could cost the town almost half a million dollars in lost revenue.

We reached out to Vidant Health officials and they released this statement. "Delivering care locally is a vital part of the Vidant Health mission and Vidant Health is committed to providing care locally in Belhaven and the surrounding communities. No decisions have been made regarding the immediate future of Vidant Pungo Hospital.”