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Commissioners vote to lend $2 million to save Belhaven hospital

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BELHAVEN, N.C. - Belhaven is one step closer to saving its hospital.

Friday afternoon, Beaufort County Commissioners voted to lend $2 million to keep the Vidant Pungo hospital open.

A split vote decided the matter.

Commissioners broke for a closed session to discuss the matter with their legal team. One commissioner in favor of the plan told 9 On Your Side they only had 3 votes coming out of closed session. But Commissioner Robert Belcher changed his mind.

Commissioners called the emergency meeting Thursday because time is of the essence. The group trying to save the hospital only has two more weeks before Vidant shuts down the Belhaven community hospital. Securing the $ 2 million was the first step. Belhaven mayor Adam O’Neil says they need $3 million to keep the hospital open. Commissioners are asking Belhaven and Hyde County, two major stakeholders, to come up with $1 million.

“I think it reasonable for them to ask Belhaven and Hyde County to participate,” said Adam O’Neil, Belhaven mayor.

“We’re going to try to make this deal one that works for the people of Beaufort County,” said Stan Deatherage, Beaufort Co. commissioner.
The commission put out conditions for this deal.

If the hospital is saved, they are putting a referendum out, essentially a hospital tax for vote. To help fund the hospital and guarantee that if the hospital goes under, all of Beaufort County will be repaid.

No word yet on what will happen if that referendum is not passed. Mayor O'Neal says the plan now is to secure the remaining $1 million and to approach Pantego Creek LLC for their approval.  

Meanwhile, Vidant Health released a statement responding to today's decision, saying, " 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,” said Roger Robertson, President of Vidant Community Hospitals.

“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.  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.”

--- Previous Story ---

It's a race against time for the people of Belhaven as they fight to save their only hospital.
    
It's set to close in just 2 and a half weeks.
    
To prevent that, the town's mayor is now asking local leaders to step up and pay up. 

In a special session Thursday, three county commissioners agreed to hear more about the mayor of Belhaven's proposed business plan to keep the hospital open.

Mayor Adam O’Neal wants the Town of Belhaven to take control of the hospital with help from a group called Pantego Creek LLC. That's going to cost 3 million dollars up front.
    
Money O’Neal is asking commissioners to contribute, backed by his prediction that the hospital actually has the potential to be profitable.
    
9 On Your Side asked Mayor O’Neal why the county's support is so important.

“Because if that hospital is not functioning, they're going to have to beef up EMS services, they're going to have a crowded emergency room in Washington,” said Adam O'Neal, Belhaven Mayor. “It's going to affect the people of Washington greatly. They need to know that."

After O'Neal's presentation, the commissioners went into closed session to discuss their concerns. They're worried about dedicating so much money to a potentially risky venture.

“Anytime you take 3 million dollars and that would have to come straight out of our cash fund, that's a big chunk of money. I don't care who you are,” said Gary Brinn, Beaufort County commissioner.

Commissioners say they're also concerned with logistics like how the hospital will operate long-term, where its equipment will come from and if a court injunction can force Vidant to postpone shutting it down.

All commissioners will meet again Friday for an emergency board meeting. That starts at 2 p.m.
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