Commissioners vote to give $2 million to save Belhaven hospital

Commissioners vote to give $2 million to save Belhaven hospital

WASHINGTON, BEAUFORT COUNTY - Beaufort County Commissioners held an emergency meeting on Friday to discuss a way to save Belhaven's hospital.

Belhaven's mayor took the plan to the commission earlier this week.

The group met in open session but decided to talk in closed session to discuss the matter with their legal team. After an hour of closed discussion, the commissioners came back out and in a 4-3 vote, they decided to give money to support saving the hospital.

It's a story we've been covering for more than a year.

Vidant Pungo Hospital is slated to close April 1st because Vidant officials say the hospital is losing too much money.

Vidant plans to build a 24 hour clinic in place of the hospital but Belhaven Mayor Adam O'Neal said that's not happening without a fight.

"2 counties have a lot to lose as well because we're going to look at a tax base that's not to grow like it would in the past. Both these counties have to put more money in rescue," he said.

O'Neal came to the commissioners on Monday with a plan requesting $3 million dollars.

The money would be used to run the hospital for 6 years and the staff would be cut down to 55 employees, according to O'Neal.

The mayor believes the hospital can be profitable in time.

"The new business plan shows that you can do the same services with 55 employees. If you cut 70 employees that cuts a lot of expenses …so the hospital can absolutely be successful," he said.

However, not everyone in the meeting agreed with that logic.

Vice-Chairman, Al Klemm, voiced his opinion saying more than 60 % of hospitals are losing money.

"I'm very concerned about the future of small rural hospitals," Klemm said.

One resident we talked with said his town would drastically change without the hospital.

"We'd probably lose a lot of people that want to get closer to a hospital. We probably won't get as many people that move to Belhaven because a lot of people that retire, retire there because of the hospital," Greg Satterthwaite said.

The commissioners ended up agreeing to give $2 million dollars to the cause. However, the town of Belhaven and Hyde County both have to come up with half a million dollars each to reach the $3 million dollar mark.

As a way to guarantee the county makes back that money should the hospital close down, commissioners proposed adding a hospital tax to help pay for the hospital in the future.

Nothing has been set in stone though regarding that issue.

Vidant Health released a statement regarding the decision made the commissioner meeting, stating, "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."

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