Republicans joined by NAACP & US Justice Dept to prevent closure of rural hospital, settlement could have national ramifications
As if in answer to a prayer vigil filmed in Belhaven, NC on March 25, an announcement came on March 26, 2014 in a joint statement from the North Carolina NAACP and Vidant Health. The Vidant Pungo Hospital will not be closed on April 1 as planned. Under the settlement reached through mediation performed by the US Department of Justice, Vidant Heatlh will operate the hospital and its emergency facilities up until a July 1st handover to a new, community-based entity to run the hospital indefinitely. On Thursday April 3, the parties will hold a joint press conference to announce a strategic plan that could become a model for addressing the "medical desert" crisis impacting America's rural communities.
CLICK HERE for a written statement that gives more details.
Andrew Ruiz of WNCT reports:
Cries for help to save the Vidant-Pungo hospital were answered.
On Wednesday the NAACP and Vidant Health reached an agreement and Thursday afternoon, in a joint statement, they announced the terms.
"I definitely think that the prayers that have been coming from everywhere have helped us,” said Adam O'Neal, Belhaven mayor. “People have stayed focus on our issue but we still have a lot of hoops to jump through.”
Over the next three months, Vidant Health will work with the community to help them establish a representative community-based board. The board is expected to take full operating control of the hospital by the end of the extension, July 1st.
Those who live in the community are reacting to the news. They say the hospitals presence means better access to healthcare and faster response times.
"We had to go to Beaufort and the wait times is almost double or triple what you would have here," one resident said.
At a March 26 prayer vigil in front of the hospital (see video below), Jessica Rogers announced that she will be organizing a prayer vigil every night leading up to and including the scheduled closing of Vidant Pungo Hospital on April 1. Now that a resolution has been reached, the prayer vigils will take place weekly each Thursday.
As the sun came up on day 2 of the Justice Department's mediation between Vidant Health and the North Carolina NAACP, there were no flags flying above Vidant Pungo Hospital. The hospital had been built in 1948, and run by the Belhaven, NC community until it was purchased by Vidant Health two years ago and scheduled for closing on April 1, 2014.
A few days earlier, US Department of Justice had responded to a federal complaint filed by the North Carolina NAACP under Title 6 of the Civil Rights Act, offering mediation as a first step toward resolving the dispute. Both Vidant Health and the NC NAACP had accepted. And then the flags came down.
To this point, our cameras have never entered the hospital. But we have heard reports from employees that equipment is being removed and all are being told by Vidant Health that the hospital will close on April 1. I had first noticed that the American flag, and the North Carolina flag had been removed on the eve of the Office of Civil Rights mediation, day 1.
Flags are, of course, symbols, and I wondered what the intended message could be in removing them hours before the Justice Department-hosted mediation was to begin. Would Vidant be entering mediation in good faith?
Perhaps with similar questions in mind, a concerned citizen named Jessica Rogers has called for a prayer vigil in front of the hospital even as mediation continues. She posted this to Facebook on the evening of March 24:
Please share all over BEAUFORT county: There will be a candlelight prayer vigil in front of Pungo District Hospital aka Vidant Pungo Hospital tomorrow night, 3/25/2014 at 7pm on the pier. Asking for all to come out and support the hospital in the midnight hour. We know that prayer changes things, we have come too far to turn back now.
Just as Pharaoh's heart was changed so shall the people of Vidant hear our pleas to save the hospital. Its needed and necessary. Think of your loved ones and the future of the community as a whole. The economy here has already suffered through natural disasters and having to bounce back slowly. How much more will it be affected if the hospital is gone. How much more damage can a man made disaster cause for the town.
Its not about the dollars its about lives. Join me tomorrow night to show Vidant there is power in numbers and in prayer. God bless you all.
Rogers gave one of the more memorable speeches at a public forum about the hospital (full video below), and was also interviewed by local media after attending the Beaufort County Commissioners historic vote to commit $2 million toward saving the hospital.