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Pantego Creek LLC votes against saving Vidant Pungo Hospital

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It’s not the outcome many people standing outside a Belhaven meeting were hoping for. The members of the Pantego Creek LLC voted 78-24 against saving Vidant Pungo Hospital in Belhaven.

Pantego Creek is the company that in 2011 entered into agreement with Vidant Health to take over the hospital.

On Tuesday, Pantego Creek LLC called a meeting to investigate and decided whether Vidant Health violated their agreement. However, the meeting got off to a rough start when the public, the mayor of Belhaven, and North Carolina’s NAACP’s Reverend William Barber were turned away from the meeting. Barber says he was told the company wanted a controlled meeting, so the only members were allowed to attend and listen in.

"They are not out of control they are very much concerned about who will control their furrier who will control their healthcare,” said Barber.

After going back and forth for about a half and hour Belhaven mayor, Adam O’Neal, was allowed into the meeting to give his presentation. O’Neal left after he says he the town of Belhaven was disrespected when presenter’s presentation times were cut from 15 minutes to three minutes, and he had door slammed on him.

“You have an organization there that has the right to pursue Vidant and make them compile with the contract or not. The sad thing is that some of those people I think are embarrassed that they were duped by Vidant and they don't want to be wrong. Instead of backing up and going after Vidant to make them compile with the contract they may just sit on their hands,” said O’Neal.

An hour after O’Neal left the members of Pantego Creek LLC voted to not sue Vidant.

“It’s just scary being in healthcare. This is the single most devastating thing I've seen in my lifetime growing up in this town,” said Pharmacist Scott Ellis.

Vidant Pungo Hospital is set to close on April 1st.

After the hospital closes, Vidant is set to begin construction on a 24-hour multi-specialty clinic in Belhaven.

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Seventy-six people in eastern North Carolina will lose their jobs as of April 1st.

Last week, Vidant officials notified the state of the their intent to lay off 76 employees in the next few months. Although, lay offs were expected, the exact number of people being let go was unknown.

Mayor of Belhaven, Adams O' Neal, says the closing of the hospital isn't just about losing jobs it's also, about losing lives.

"Vidant closing our hospital is like ripping the heart our of our town. It is our largest employer, and it is the actually the entity that controls life or death in our area," said O' Neal.

Vidant purchased the hospital in 2011, however, after reviewing the financials, announced it was closing the hospital in September of 2013. A decision that has sparked several rallies, complaints, and a lawsuit.

Vidant Health officials say since September they have been working with employees to find them other employment options. So far, 30 employees have received employment at other Vidant facilities, 11 employees plan to retire, and 11 employees decided seek employment elsewhere. Hospital officials says they have also been working with the North Carolina Department of Commerce to get resources from Governor Pat McCrory's Rapid Response Team to affected employees.

" Since the original decision in September, Vidant Health has worked actively with Vidant Pungo employees to assist them with finding new employment," said  President of Vidant Community Hospitals, Roger Robertson.

Vidant Health plans to officially close the hospital on Apr. 1st, and then start construction on a 24-hour multi-speciality clinic in Belhaven.

For those living in the Belhaven community, they say the fight to save Pungo Hospital is not over.

"We've had a performer done and a business plan that looks like the hospital can break even in time, and that even includes building a new facility. So, we're interested in doing that. So, we're hoping that Vidant works with us in that direction," said O'Neal.

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The Vidant Pungo Hospital Director's Council tries to counter allegations made against them when it comes to closing the hospital. The council says they are mailing out a letter to the Belhaven community to address the hospital's past and future. Here is the full letter:

January 23, 2014

Dear Community Members:

We, as members of the Vidant Pungo Hospital Director’s Council (formerly the Board of Trustee members for Pungo
District Hospital), would like to share factual information with you related to past challenges and the future of our

Over the past 10 – 15 years, our hospital has faced many difficult situations. You may remember that back in 2001,
Pungo District Hospital filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy due to the severe financial crisis that we faced. Our hospital was
in deep financial debt, costs to deliver health care were rising, and our 50 year old hospital was in need of many major

What you may not know is University Health Systems of Eastern Carolina (UHSEC) came to us at that time and offered
to assume our debt, repair our building and manage our hospital; an offer that unfortunately was not supported by
our community as a whole. As a result, UHSEC walked away and our hospital filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. After
bankruptcy, we were fortunate to receive various grants that helped us to keep operating in spite of an ongoing difficult
financial situation. Managing the hospital continued to be very challenging as we emerged from the bankruptcy. There
were many challenges including:
• Grant money was decreasing.
• The hospital continued to lose money on operations.
• The cost of providing care continued to rise.
• Our building was now in need of major, critical repairs.
• The expense of providing uncompensated care continued to rise.
• New rules and regulations of the 2010 Affordable Care Act were coming our way including reductions in
Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements and the requirement that all hospitals have electronic health
records, a cost that would exceed $2 million.
• Concerns about the ability to recruit and retain doctors and other health care workers to our community, a
problem that many rural communities all across the country were facing.

It became very clear to our hospital leadership and to the Board of Trustees that Pungo District Hospital would need to
find a partner or risk shutting down; leaving little to no access to health care for our community. We also recognized that
small rural hospitals, as well as doctors all over the country, were aligning with larger facilities in order to survive. The
future did not look hopeful if we continued to go it alone.

We talked to many potential partners. There were only two who would even consider coming into our area to operate
a hospital with our large needs. Our board studied both organizations carefully. We approached the one with the most
resources that our community and residents would need in the future. That organization was University Health Systems
of Eastern Carolina (now called Vidant Health), an organization that called eastern North Carolina home and one that
was successfully operating similar sized rural hospitals in our region. We talked with them about a partnership that
would ensure health care services remain available for Belhaven and surrounding communities for many years to come.
In October 2011, we made a decision, with the unanimous consent of the private Pungo District Hospital Membership
Corporation, to sign an agreement with UHSEC.

Due to all of the restructuring going on in health care, UHSEC was clear during our negotiations they could not guarantee
a hospital; however, they would guarantee appropriate sustainable health care services for our community going
forward. We, as trustees, were hopeful a hospital would always remain, but our most important focus was being sure
that there would always be health care services available here, including doctors and outpatient services.

It is important to know that since October 2011, Vidant Health has:
• At the request of our local Belhaven physicians, assumed responsibility for their offices.
• Spent $2.3 million on an electronic health record system for Vidant Pungo Hospital that is required of
all hospitals.
• Spent over $1 million on facility repairs and equipment at Vidant Pungo Hospital that were necessary to
be in compliance and keep the doors of the hospital open.
• Spent approximately $2.3 million in providing uncompensated care at Vidant Pungo Hospital.

Let’s fast forward to today and what we know now. The issues have not changed since 2011, but they have gotten worse.
• The physical condition of the hospital is poor. There are structural and safety concerns and we cannot continue
on a long-term basis to provide health care in our current building.
• Vidant Health lost over $2 million providing medical services to the Vidant Pungo community in 2013.
• The changes associated with health care reform, especially related to how hospitals are paid for services, have
changed drastically. The impact related to the Affordable Care Act and Sequestration will result in an additional
$174,000 in payment cuts to Vidant Pungo alone for 2014.

It was not easy for our Director’s Council to accept the recommendation of a multispecialty clinic with 24/7 urgent care
service, and not a small hospital. When we met with Vidant Health leadership and reviewed the projections for various
models of care, we understood the changes that had to be made. We fully support the 24/7 multispecialty clinic option
and appreciate Vidant Health staying the course and not abandoning our community. The clinic will provide primary and
urgent care 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This was not the least expensive model reviewed. It is expected that the clinic
will lose approximately $1 million per year for the foreseeable future, which Vidant Health will continue to fund.

We want you to know that Vidant Health is living up to the agreement that they made to our board and to our
community in 2011. We hope this background gives you a better understanding of the challenges our hospital has faced
both as an independent hospital and now as a part of Vidant Health. We promise you that this decision was not made
lightly and we focused on what we thought was best for the people of eastern Beaufort and mainland Hyde County.

Vidant Pungo Hospital Director’s Council

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Fighting for what's right---that's what the NAACP is saying they're doing by filing a discrimination complaint against Vidant Health. The health system wants to close their hospital in Belhaven next month.

After protest, forums and even phone calls, the NAACP says they’ve had enough. "We represent the people. We are the voice of the voiceless."

On Tuesday, they filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services claiming that the Vidant Health System failed to meet promises made to community in 2011. 

“They said they would do no harm. They would improve the quality of the hospital and community and they've done the complete opposite,” Beaufort County NAACP President Bill Booth said. 
In February, more than a hundred will be without jobs and more than 25,000 without services if the Vidant-Pungo Hospital in Belhaven closes its doors. In a previous interview Vidant's CEO said they did everything to avoid the facility's closure.

"These are not comfortable or pleasant decisions for all or any of us. However, these are decisions that need to be made in order to keep healthcare #1, present in the communities that we serve, and #2, affordable in the communities that we serve," David Herman said. 

According to their website, the hospital spent hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to correct and maintain the facility and decided to move on. They are planning to build a new $4.2 million clinic. But town leaders say it isn't a viable option. “What Vidant is talking about is doing away with an emergency room and they’ve played games with that. That's not true,” Belhaven Mayor Adam O’Neal said. 

O'Neal says Vidant has never addressed their concerns and says this complaint just proves they aren't letting up.

Vidant emailed us a statement: "Vidant Health continues to move forward with our plans to build a multispecialty climulti-specialtyn. In the meantime, we are working with local and state officials to transition health care services in Beaufort and Hyde counties to our Vidant Medical Group Physician Practices."  

The NAACP says Vidant will have until January 15th to negotiate a cease and desist agreement. O'Neal says there is a community organization willing to buy back the hospital, but Vidant hasn't provided them with figures. If this were to happen, O'Neal says they would hire a management company to run it.
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The North Carolina NAACP is now filing suit against Vidant Health.

They held a press conference Tuesday in Belhaven announcing the filing of a title six complaint for what they're calling "discriminatory practices based on race and class."
The documentary web series, Story of America, traveled to cover the event.
Their team is documenting the closing of Vidant Pungo Hospital, the only facility that provides emergency care to 25,000 people in Beaufort and Hyde counties.

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