BELHAVEN, BEAUFORT COUNTY - Every seat was filled as more than 450 Belhaven residents gathered together to continue to fight for their town's hospital, Vidant Pungo.
A public forum was held Tuesday night with Vidant Health officials, at the Wilkinson Center in Belhaven. Many people stood in the hallways and even outside of the building due to capacity to show their support.
Belhaven Mayor Adam O'Neal invited the public to attend the meeting to discuss the closing of Vidant Pungo Hospital, a move he is calling a matter of "life or death."
The CEO of Vidant Health, David Herman, was at the meeting to answer the public's questions. Herman said the decision stems from the facility's age and financial problems.
The building is more than 60 years old and had a nearly $1.8 million deficit last year, Vidant Health stated. In addition, the hospital is located in a flood-prone area.
"When we came here to Belhaven we came here for the long term, and what we're doing right now is to make sure we have a solution to provide health care needs that can be here for the long term," Herman said.
The board decided to close the hospital within the next six months and build a new 24/7 Vidant multi-specialty clinic in or near Belhaven. The new facility is projected to cost $4.3 million and is expected to be completed within 18 months, according to Vidant Health.
Herman said more than 5,000 people were treated last year in the emergency department, and 75 percent of those needed primary or urgent care.
Billy Jefferson said it's the care he's received at Vidant Pungo Hospital which saved his life.
"Thanks to the hospital I'm 66 years old and I made it 66 years," he said.
Jefferson said he has a serious heart condition. He said without the help of Vidant Pungo he would not be here today.
"The hospital, even though it doesn't have a heart center, kept me alive until I could get to Greenville," Jefferson said.
Herman said Vidant Health officials are working with EMS to work out a system that would allow ambulances to stop in Belhaven with the new facility.
"There will be no gaps in the 24/7 services here. We will be moving services from the hospital into our existing practices, as the new facility is being developed," Herman said.
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