Hurtful statements add to family's heartache

Just a few days after the death of Portia Gibbs, 48, her husband, Barry, and her children Justin and Ashely shared with us that they were wounded by two assertions that had reached them about Portia's death. They said that these assertions may have originated with Hyde County emergency management officials. 

Annabel-and-Barry-sm.jpgMr. Gibbs said he believes that the assertions were made to protect, or curry favor with Vidant Health, Inc — a corporation that donated $250,000 to Hyde County's emergency services after purchasing and then closing the only hospital within 90 miles for many of its residents. Belhaven, North Carolina's hospital had been closed at 12:01 am on July 2, 2014. Portia died on July 7.

When her heart began to fail, Portia was 75 miles from the nearest hospital, and, it seems clear that the decision to call for a helicopter rather that transport her by land was a direct result of the fact that Belhaven's hospital, which is 28 miles closer, had shut its doors.

Portia's husband, Barry, age 60, asked me if I knew if any of these statements were true. I said that I would find out. I spoke with Jared Holz, who literally "wrote the book" on policy and procedure for Hyde County Emergency Medical Service (he provided me the excerpt below). Holz is the former Emergency Services Director for Hyde County, and has 25 years of experience as a paramedic and as an emergency services supervisor, manager, and director in cities and towns up and down the eastern seaboard. Holz prefaced his remarks by relating that his statements are all based on second-hand understanding of the incident.

Is it true that if a person is brought to the EMT unconscious, they are not allowed to move them? 

Holz: No. It is every EMT’s responsibility to assess, treat, and if necessary transport any patient to the best of their ability based on their training. The only time you limit movement of a patient is in the case of trauma. But even then you take a life over limb approach to patient treatment. If this statement was made by an EMT or Paramedic in an EMS system, I would be greatly disappointed.

Is it true that an ambulance is equipped with all the same life-saving tools as an emergency room?

Holz: Any emergency room anywhere is better equipped than an ambulance to save a person's life. An ALS or Paramedic level ambulance has some of the same medications found in the ER for treating many medical or traumatic emergencies, but not all of them. And it goes without saying that an ambulance doesn’t have the diagnostic equipment available in an emergency room such as X-Ray, CT scan, or Ultrasound, to name a few. An ambulance is also limited by the number of personnel, their level of training, and their comfort with acting on any particular issue.

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Lawrenceville, VA Rejects Immigrant Children as Diseased and Criminal

This was one of the most disturbing nights of filming I have experienced in America since Oct. 16, 2007 in Prince William County, VA (when, after 12 hours of heated public testimony, the Board of County Supervisors voted to fund a law requiring police to check immigration status based on a "probable cause" standard dangerously close to mandatory racial profiling).

On the day after the Lawrenceville incident, I was interviewed on MSNBC to report on what I had witnessed.

Prior to going on the air, I wrote this in an email to 9500 Liberty & Story of America co-director Annabel Park and Police Chief Charlie Deane (ret.) of Prince William County, VA:

I filmed the entire town hall event last night. I met the Sheriff and gave him two copies of the film. I also gave a copy of the film to the Mayor-elect and a county supervisor. The story in Lawrenceville is a lot more complex than "look how racist people can be" and also more complex than "country folk just hate the federal government" although I saw a lot of that too.

It seems that the administrator of the now-defunct college down there signed an agreement with the federal government to house these unaccompanied minors on the campus, without informing the local elected officials or the People. They have a right to be upset about the lack of transparency. I only counted 2 people who stood up to defend the idea of helping these young people in 3 and 1/2 hours (but I did step out for a while with 1 camera rolling).

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Republicans, NAACP join forces to prevent 'medical desert' in coastal NC

NOTE: Vidant Health declined to be interviewed for this web series, and declined our offer to submit a statement on this issue.

In September 2013, Vidant Health, a system of hospitals serving 29 counties in eastern North Carolina, that it would be closing the Vidant Pungo Hospital in Belhaven, NC, which they had acquired less than 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 that can turn away people who lack insurance, and does not offer emergency care.

save-our-hospital-sm.jpgThe closest hospital with emergency care would be Vidant Beaufort Hospital in Washington, NC which is located 30 miles (on two-lane rural roads) away from Vidant Pungo Hospital. In life-threatening emergencies such as car accidents or strokes, adding 30 miles can have fatal consequence. From the eastern side of Hyde County, which is currently served by Vidant Pungo Hospital, it is a 80 mile drive to Vidant Beaufort Hospital.

When Vidant Health took control of the community hospital which opened in 1948, it signed a contract promising that the hospital would remain open, and that Vidant would improve services. Instead, Vidant stripped out equipment, beds, and services that had brought in revenue for the hospital, and added a six-figure on the salary for an executive manager who visited the hospital only once a week.

At the time of the purchase, Pungo Hospital was losing 1 million dollars a year. Hospitals designated by the government as Critical Access Hospitals are not designed to make money, but rather to ensure that people in rural areas have access to emergency and preventative healthcare. Knowing that patients would be forced to travel to another hospital Vidant had recently acquired, it seemed like a common sense move to consolidate the two operations. If neighboring Hyde County — one of the largest in counties in North Carolina — had a hospital of its own, perhaps that argument could have been made. But forcing people who already travel 50 miles for emergency care to now travel 80 miles will put lives in danger.

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.

Oneal_Barber_still_sm.jpgBelhaven's current Mayor Adam 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. 

According to Vidant Health and heath care advocates at the North Carolina Justice Center, the state government's decision to reject federal dollars for Medicaid expansion made it much more difficult for this hospital to operate without losing money. Under the Affordable Care Act, adjustments were made to the way in which Medicaid reimbursements are paid, with the expansion of Medicaid factored into that equation. Thus, states that refuse to accept this funding and allow its residents health insurance are doing more damage to struggling hospitals than they realize.

NAACP and U.S. Department of Justice step in

March 15, 2014: The U.S. Dept. of Justice has offered mediation to Vidant Health and the North Carolina NAACP to resolve a Title 6 complaint under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Vidant Pungo Hospital in Belhaven, NC, which serves 23K people in Beaufort and Hyde counties, was purchased by Vidant Health two years ago under a contractual agreement stipulating that Vidant would keep the hospital open and expand services.

Six months ago, Vidant announced it would be closing the hospital instead, forcing patients to travel an additional 30 miles to another hospital recently purchased by Vidant, in Washington, NC.

Rev. Dr. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP, has travelled to Belhaven, NC three times this year to join in local efforts to prevent the hospital's closing. In part 2 of our video series, and, in more detail in here, Rev. Barber explains the complaint. 

NAACP attorney Al McSurely said, "We have reason to believe that there will be talks between both sides to see whether an agreement can be made to slow up the decision to tear the hospital down until after the community can negotiate a better outcome, with the government's help."

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World 's Worst Babysitter

Eric_age_12.pngIn 1985, at the age of 13, I was offered my first job as a babysitter.  For four hours on a Friday night, I would be responsible for 9-year-old Brian Robertson.

I tried the toy cars and other games that had entertained me when my parents had hired sitters for me. But Brian soon got hold of a lighter. Rather than snatching the lighter from his hands, I tried to shame and scold him into handing it to me, reciting the wisdom of a talking bear/forrest ranger I knew from Saturday morning cartoons.

Brian darted into the kitchen, grabbed a roll of paper towels, and proceeded to run in a circle through the house lighting them on fire and dropping them on the floor. I chased him, stomping out the fires, and yelling his name.

Brian was asleep by the time his parents came home. All the fires were out. "How did it go?" Mrs. Robertson asked. I told her what had happened, every bit of it.  Mr. and Mrs. Robertson began discussing punishment options for Brian before I was out the door. They paid me and said goodnight.

smokey_the_bear.jpgA few days later I ran into Brian's older brother, Bobby, who was in high school and has been out partying the night of the 40 fires.

"Why didn't you just beat his ass?" he asked me, or, something to that effect. I shrugged.

"Well my parents are never gonna ask you to babysit again, never!" Bobby said peering at me with a look of disbelief.

Of course, I'd known that already. I wouldn't have hired me either.

PS: The story behind this story.

Uplifting Note from a TEA Party Friend

tea_party_flag.jpegToday I received a message from a TEA Party friend named David. I know him only through Facebook, but our conversations have been deep. The first message I received from him was in October 2011. He noticed that I was going through a rough spell, and he wrote me this:

Eric, I have always admired your dignity and integrity. Haven't always agreed with every direction you turned, but you have always been scrupulously true to the highest values. I think very highly of you and I admire you on your firm stand. From experience, (yes, these things happen in church too sadly), people will call you names to defend what they did. Hold firm. You'll be fine. In the long run its those high principles that will win the day. For whatever it's worth, you'll have me behind you too. God bless you!

Now then, a solid reason why the tack you are taking against the commercialization of the Coffee Party is exactly the right thing to do. I looked in my spam box and nosed around a bit. This is one thing I found. No matter what "The Tea Party" says they stand for, they have been going to my spam box for some time now in large part because their "sponsors" spam me continually all day long and I do not have time for any of it. In other words, they have alienated me." is forwarding this message to you from one of our sponsors. Sponsorship does not imply any endorsement of the products or services referenced herein by our organization or imply any exclusive arrangement with All personal information of subscribers is kept in strictest confidence and never shared with sponsors."

Yeah yeah yeah, except the Tea Party sold or rented them my email address, which admittedly isn't necessarily private anymore, but....

Stand firm Eric. You just might win a few disgruntled former tea sippers just by showing us your high ethics. You can quote me if it would be helpful.

I did quote you David. Thank you. Let's work together, and let's hope that our fellow Americans, when they band together for a cause, can learn how not to become what they set out to oppose.

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