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 purchased 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 without 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 90 mile 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 that Vidant would improve services. Instead, Vidant stripped out equipment, beds, and services that had brought in revenue for the hospital, and added on the salary of a six-figure executive 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 purchased, 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 60 miles for emergency care to now travel 90 miles is not only bad for human life, it may also be bad business.

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.

Oneal_Barber_still_sm.jpgMayor 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.

According to Vidant Health and heath care advocates, the NC General Assembly's decision to reject Medicaid expansion made it much more difficult for this hospital — and others in states that rejected federal dollars for Medicaid expansion — 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.

An upheaval is inevitable

IMG_20140429_100554.jpgI come from a tiny village in the far northwest corner of Minnesota. When I was growing up, you waived to the customs officials and border patrol guards, because they knew you and they trusted you. That is now a dim memory, especially since 9/11.  

I began to question things in the 1990s. As time went on, it became clear to me: There is no 'good' side to be on. All sides are corrupt.

Since the financial collapse of 2008, things have gotten much worse for me. I worked for over 23 years for the federal government. I had to leave and take a deferred retirement because of my health in early 2010. I tried working in other jobs, but none paid me what I once earned in government, and for the first time in my life, I had no benefits, including health care. I was in a limbo for awhile, not able to afford insurance myself, but not qualifying for medical assistance in my state.

I was a lucky one. I applied for SSA Disability and after 18 months, won my case.  Now, with my disability, and doing as much homesteading as two health-challenged over 55-year-olds can muster, we manage.

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Not a Monster's Daughter

14_-_1.jpgOn December 30, 1973, I was born Holly D. Trexler to an eighteen year old young woman in Cleveland, Ohio. On March 5, 1975, I was permanently placed into the home of my adoptive family and my name was changed to Megan A. Collins.

I have always known I was adopted. My mother spent endless hours reading to me from books that explained what adoption was and how I was chosen. I spent my life believing that I was given up for adoption out of love and a blessing to my adoptive family.  I have lived a wonderful life, one that many dream of. My childhood version of my biological family was much like the movie Annie. They adored me but just couldn’t raise a child for financial reasons.

When I was twenty-five, I received a four-page letter titled “background information.” It was that day that I read “this was not a consensual relationship, your mother had crossed paths with her best friend's brother on an out of state trip.” It took a moment to digest, I fell to the floor and sobbed. Moments later, all of the questions that came from the information became more consuming than the original search.

I spent the next twelve years in search of the woman who had endured this horrible crime. I would like to say that I cannot relate in any way to what she had gone through. However, in the spring of 1989, I too was raped. I do understand wanting to forget the past, but I know that there is no way to forget this no matter how hard you try to pack it in a box and hide it away. It is always there.

I am able to write my story today and have three intelligent, well spoken, amazing children because I was not aborted. I am part of the 1% conceived by rape who are spoken of the rape exception debate that is in the news so frequently these days.

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