BELHAVEN, BEAUFORT COUNTY - The Town of Belhaven and the NAACP have filed a complaint with the the Department of Justice to keep Vidant Pungo Hospital open past the July 1 deadline.
Friday morning, Belhaven Mayor Adam O'Neal, NAACP leaders and concerned citizens gathered at the Greenville offices of the Pitt County NAACP to announce the complaint with the DoJ. The complaint is against Vidant Health and Pantego Creek, LLC, the company that oversaw Vidant's takeover of Pungo Hospital in 2011.
Vidant announced last September that it would close Pungo Hospital within six months and replace it with a new 24-hour care facility. Vidant said Pungo Hospital is more than 60 years old, had a nearly $1.8 million deficit last year, and is located in a flood-prone area.
But Vidant and the town of Belhaven signed an agreement early this year to have Belhaven assume control of the hospital by July 1. A new proposal was then issued to extend that deadline to Dec. 31.
However, Pantego Creek said it will not accept that amendment, saying it has strong doubts about the long-term viability of the hospital.
Now, Vidant Pungo Hospital is set to close just after midnight on July 1.
The complaint announced Friday seeks an investigation into Vidant Health's dealings with Pantego Creek, LLC.
NAACP lawyer Allen McShirley said he wants the Department of Justice to look into the possibility that members of Pantego Creek, LLC and Vidant could have been working in bad faith with the Town of Belhaven the entire time.
Mayor O'Neal said during Friday's news conference the Town of Belhaven has held up its end of the deal, but Vidant and Pantego Creek haven't done their part.
"Vidant doesn't want us to take the hospital back," Mayor O'Neal said. "They want to accomplish their goal of putting us out of business and force people to Washington. That's why they're doing it. Everyone needs to understand that Vidant is not concerned about people dying. This is a fact, not an opinion. If they cared, they would have helped."
O'Neal said the hospital, which serves 25,000 people, is vital to surrounding counties-- its service area covers more than 1,200 miles.
"Vidant doesn't think it's important for those people to stop in Belhaven. They want them to go another half hour. We know if you're having a stroke and your brain is bleeding, it's probably not good to have another half hour before you can get treatment," O'Neal said.
Roger Robertson, the president of Vidant Community Hospitals, issued the following statement Friday afternoon:
"We are surprised by the mayor's inaccurate comments and allegations from the NC NAACP and are choosing not to respond at this time," Robertson said.
Lawyers at the NAACP said they haven't heard from anyone. But if they do and there is an injunction before July 1 --the scheduled closing date of the hospital--Vidant must continue to operate the hospital until the investigation is complete.