One concern cited by Vidant officials is the proximity of Pungo Hospital to the water's edge and a possibility of flooding.
One concern cited by Vidant officials was the proximity of Pungo Hospital to the water's edge and a possibility of flooding. Photo credit: Hyun Namkoong

By Hyun Namkoong

The North Carolina chapter of the NAACP and Vidant Health announced on Thursday that they will sign an agreement to keep Vidant Pungo District Hospital in Belhaven open until at least July 1. The hospital’s doors had been slated to close on Tuesday.

Through the mediation service of the U.S. Department of Justice, a “public-private partnership” model was used to create a representative community-based board that will assume the operating responsibilities of the hospital on July 1. Details of the agreement and transfer of ownership have yet to be finalized.

Pungo Hospital, in Belhaven. Photo credit: Hyun Namkoong

“In these three months, we’re supposed to have some kind of resolution in which both sides can agree upon and go forth to see if salvaging the hospital will be possible,” said Charles Boyette, a long-time physician and former Belhaven mayor for 25 years.

“We don’t absolutely know all of the details,” he said.

The announcement that Vidant Health would close the hospital worried many Belhaven residents, not only because of the loss of health care but also due to the economic implications of losing the town’s biggest employer. The hospital brings in around $400,000 of revenue annually and has been instrumental in attracting retirees to the coastal town.

The hospital’s employees have been notified that they will remain in their positions until July and, according to the press release, the community-based board will make every attempt to avoid the elimination of any jobs.

Vidant Health announced plans to construct a multi-specialty clinic to replace the hospital. However, the lack of an emergency department caused a wave of anxiety and frustration in the community that prompted the NAACP to get involved in the town’s fight to save the hospital.

Many residents of Beaufort and Hyde counties worried that the 30-mile drive from Belhaven to Washington was too long in the event of an emergency.

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Hyun Namkoong

Hyun graduated from the UNC-Chapel Hill Gillings Global School of Public Health in the health behavior department and she worked as the NC Health News intern from Jan-Aug 2014.