Who is ultimately responsible for providing healthcare to those who can't afford it? What happens when a state with a high poverty rate refuses the expansion of Medicaid? What happens when a hospital chain buys up all the small hospitals in an area and creates a monopoly? What happens when that hospital chain begins to consolidate their hospitals leaving some areas with thousands of people without emergency services for nearly 80-100 miles? These are some of the questions that come up in the story of Vidant Pungo Hospital closing in Belhaven, NC.
Vidant Health, a system of hospitals serving 29 counties in eastern North Carolina, announced six months ago that it would be closing the Vidant Pungo Hospital in Belhaven, NC, which they had purchased two years earlier. Vidant has announced plans to close the hospital on April 1st and demolish the building. It plans to build a new 24-hour clinic with a helipad, but without emergency care.
The closest hospital with emergency care would be Vidant Beaufort Hospital in Washington, NC which is located 31 miles (on two-lane rural roads) away from Vidant Pungo Hospital. In life-threatening emergencies such as car accidents or strokes, adding 31 miles would have fatal consequence. From the center of Hyde County which is currently served by Vidant Pungo Hospital, it's a 90-minute to 2-hour drive to Vidant Beaufort Hospital.
When Vidant Health bought the community hospital which opened in 1948 from Pantego Creek, LLC, it signed a contract promising that the hospital would remain open, and to improve services.
At the time of the purchase, Pungo Hospital was losing 1 million dollars a year. After Vidant took it over, it was losing 2 million dollars a year.
According to Vidant Health and other experts, the NC General Assembly's decision to reject Medicaid expansion made matters worse. Pungo Hospitals serves people in two counties -- Beaufort and Hyde -- among the poorest in the state.
Vidant claims that it could not make the Pungo Hospital viable due to the building's deteriorated state and the lack of revenue. This assessment is fiercely disputed by Dr. Charles Boyette, the hospital's former chief of staff, former mayor and town physician and Mayor Adam O'Neal among others.
Mayor O'Neal believes that Vidant Health never intended to improve the management of Vidant Pungo Hospital to make it more efficient and had planned to close it down from the outset, shifting patients now served by Pungo Hospital to Vidant's larger hospitals in Washington and Greenville. Because Vidant owns all the hospitals in the area, O'Neal believes that Vidant knows that people will have to go to one of their hospitals anyway and closing one would reduce the cost of maintaining the facilities.
Since September when Vidant made the surprise announcement about their decision to close Vidant Pungo Hospital, O'Neal has organized rallies and petition drives to protest the closing of the hospital. In January, the North Carolina NAACP filed a Title 6 complaint with the Civil Rights Division of the US Department of Justice claiming that this decision is discriminatory because it disproportionately affects African Americans, women, and the elderly. On Tuesday we learned that a federal investigator had been assigned to the case.
Augustine Carter, an 85-year-old voter in Richmond, tells her story of the trouble she went through to vote in 2012. Born in 1928, she never had a birth certificate and she never got a driver's license because she decided years ago that driving wasn't for her. Her baptism certificate was sufficient for all identification purposes until the 2012 election. She had to go through a Kafkaesque bureaucracy including being told by someone at the Motor Vehicle Administration that she couldn't prove that she was not a terrorist.
I grew up in rural southeastern Indiana. All in all, it was a good place to grow up. I got to spend my time camping, hunting, fishing, and playing in the woods. I did grow up with parents who never made a ton of money, but I was happy enough when left alone.
Both my parents passed away when I was young. Mostly due to self-inflicted alcohol and drug abuses. I subsequently moved in with my aunt (my mom's sister) early in high school. She looked after me and made sure I completed high school and continues to look after me to this day. She didn't have a lot of money either, but made sure to encourage me to go to college.
I studied at Northern Kentucky University double-majoring in political science and international studies. I met my now wife my last year and have been with her for nearly seven years.
From there, I went on to law school at Northern Kentucky University Chase College of Law. I opted to work full-time during the days at a law firm while spending my evenings in class to cut down on student loans.
I now spend my time looking after my pregnant wife (due any week) and working as a personal injury attorney to pay the bills including student loans. All in all, it is a pretty decent life for someone who came out of some pretty difficult personal situations when younger.
In the current state of politics, I find myself without a party or real representation. I feel stranded. I find myself being very fiscally conservative, while being socially very liberal. I am at odds with both major parties.
I was born in Saudi Arabia in the 1950s, while my father worked for Aramco. Lila is an Arabic name. It means Night.
I am 57 now, and so many memories flow through me, and the tears flow out. I have not always been poor, but I will be poor from now on.
I went to both public and private schools, and spent some time in a Catholic boarding school. I have lived in and visited many countries, and feel so enriched by my experiences. They taught me to fear nothing, to shun nothing and no one. I truly see us all as one.
I got a degree in nursing from McNeese State University in 1989, and moved to North Carolina from Louisiana in 1990. My father, who influenced me more than anyone, had died in 1987, so there was nothing to keep us there. My mother came along with us, and got a place close by.
I worked hard, my first job being at Duke University Medical Center. There was never a day I did not go through its doors that I did not think "this is it, the big game, the top of the mountain." And it is -- there are more stunning things and amazing procedures that happen there than just about anywhere, and I was able to be a part of that. It was intoxicating, and exhausting.
After three years there I took my show on the road, literally, to be a home health nurse, and a travel nurse. I loved my work, and would still do it if I could, but all the hours on my feet, the pulling and lifting, turning and positioning of people finally took its toll, and I had to stop work in 2010. I miss it.
My daughter, Sarah, gave birth to Chloe in 2001. Steve, my husband, and I helped raise her from the time she was 14 months old until she was nine. My daughter had gotten married in that space of time and had a son, Gavin. They had moved west and ended up in Mesa, Arizona. Her husband was abusive. Once he beat her so badly she should have gone to the hospital -- she didn't.
Everyone has a story; I believe mine is still being written. My name is Rebekah Barber and I am currently a sophomore attending North Carolina Central University in Durham, NC with hopes of becoming a civil rights attorney. I am the daughter of Rev. Dr William Barber II, the leader of the NC NAACP.
I find it important to give this context because growing up in my father’s house greatly molded me into the person I am today, even though I did not always realize this. Both of my parents instilled in me and my siblings the importance of being respectful to everyone. They taught us to work hard in school and always strive for the best education. And most of all, they taught us to always use our education and anything else we have to somehow be a blessing to others.
When I was only a year and a half years old, I was diagnosed with hydrocephalus. I had too much water in my brain, put simply. I had the ability to be operated on at one of the most renowned hospitals in the world, Johns Hopkins, I was saved, partially because I had healthcare, and partially because I had parents with great faith who would not let just anyone operate on their daughter.
As I look at the world today, I realize I am here for a reason. I am here to help others.
Because I have a preexisting condition, I feel I should demand rights for others with preexisting conditions. Because I am a minority, I feel I should fight for the rights of other minorities. And because I know what it is like to feel alone, when I see my brother or sister being isolated, especially for something they cannot help, I need to stand by them.