BELHAVEN, BEAUFORT COUNTY - Vidant Health has announced they have reached an agreement with the NAACP to keep Vidant Pungo Hospital open.
The hospital, located in Belhaven, was slated to close on April 1 because Vidant Health said the building is more than 60 years old, had a nearly $1.8 million deficit last year, and is located in a flood-prone area.
Vidant Health said they will build a new 24/7 multi-specialty clinic in or near Belhaven. The new facility is expected to be completed within 18 months.
But Vidant Health announced Thursday afternoon that they have worked out an agreement with the NAACP branches in Hyde and Beaufort Counties to keep Vidant Pungo Hospital and its emergency facilities open through July 1.
Many residents are pleased with this decision, saying the hospital is important to those in need of immediate care.
"Especially for heart attack victims. Being able to get the shot and being airlifted to Greenville to buy 'em some time," said Kevin Armstrong, who was born in Belhaven.
That was the case for Lill Carowan's late husband, who had a heart attack about 25 years ago.
"The first time he had a heart attack, he was stabilized at Pungo district," she said. "I'm thankful that other people will have the chance that he had. He had ten years that he would not have had."
Vidant Health officials said they will work with the community over the next three months to establish a community-based board that will accept full operating control of the hospital in a transfer by July 1.
The employees of the hospital have been notified they will keep their positions through June 30, Vidant Health officials said.
"...We hope virtually all of them will retain their positions when the newly-formed Pungo District Hospital Board takes over the operation of the hospital by that date," Vidant Health said in a statement. "We understand that the uncertainty surrounding the future of the hospital in Belhaven, N.C. has been stressful for the employees of the hospital and the community at large. We want to assure the hospital's employees and community that both parties are committed to the terms of this agreement."
"We need [the hospital] to be here and good employment, too," said Armstrong.
According to the Office of Sen. Kay Hagan, Vidant Pungo Hospital is the only facility that currently provides emergency care services for the 25,000 people living in Beaufort and Hyde counties.
Officials say they plan to hold a meeting Thursday, April 3rd, to release additional information.
One topic expected to be discussed is the fact that the town needs $3 million to run the hospital. Beaufort County commissioners agreed to give the town $2 million, but the town would need to come up with the additional $1 million. Town officials say they hope Hyde County, which is home to many people who frequent Vidant Pungo, will cover half of that $1 million.