Adam O’Neal: Vidant cutting heart out of NC coastal community

February 28, 2014 

Our community has had a hospital for over 60 years and has always found a way to survive through good and bad times. A couple of years ago, our local hospital board was looking for a way to secure a solid foundation in the coming years. Vidant Health was asked to look at our facility and determine whether it would consider taking it over due to its tremendous resources. Vidant told the community it would take over the hospital and, according to the agreement, “serve to maintain the identity and viability of Pungo District Hospital in Pungo’s service area; maintain and strengthen Pungo’s commitment to the community in providing health care services without regard to ability to pay.”

Less than two years later, I received a call from journalists requesting comments on Vidant’s closing of our local hospital. I was shocked! I thought a horrible mistake had been made. I then learned that Vidant had indeed decided to close our hospital with absolutely no notice to the communities they serve.

There are two counties and several towns that rely heavily on our hospital. I am certain our community would have worked with Vidant to remedy any problems it was having. We have had meetings to explain the necessity of our hospital to Vidant. Our hospital serves people up to 70 miles away, and now those people will have another 30 miles to survive before emergency room care is available. It saddens me to say Vidant has displayed absolutely no concern for the certainty that this extra 30+ minutes will cause many deaths. The company seems more concerned with financial issues than emergency medicine.

Belhaven now has a business plan prepared by experts that shows our hospital can break even if run properly. The business plan was done after town officials expressed grave doubts about numbers Vidant shared in meetings concerning losses at our hospital. The company that prepared the business plan asked Vidant if it would consider working with the community if it could be shown a way for the hospital to be financially feasible. Vidant said it would not be interested in working with the community at all.

Vidant came to our town of 1,700 people, plus a service area of 20,000 people, and now it is trying to cut our heart out. It wants to close our biggest employer, shut down our largest town utility customer and devastate the quality of our health care by removing our hospital and emergency room facility. All of this has been done without any communication with the community.

Does this sound like a community-oriented organization? I do not want to see any more communities ruined by the Vidant Health way of doing business. An extra 30 minutes is a long time when you’re dying.

Adam W. O’Neal, Mayor, Belhaven

The length limit was waived.

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