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NC Court of Appeals rules against Town of Belhaven in lawsuit effort to keep rural hospital open

Rev. William Barber of the N.C. NAACP and Belhaven Mayor Adam O'Neal speak Monday at the U.S. Capitol

Rev. William Barber of the N.C. NAACP and Belhaven Mayor Adam O’Neal spoke last year at the U.S. Capitol about rural hospital closures.

It looks like the fight to reopen a rural hospital in Belhaven may be all but over.

The North Carolina Court of Appeals issued an opinion Tuesday that affirms defendants Vidant’s and Pantego Creek’s victory over the Town of Belhaven and the North Carolina NAACP in an April 2015 lawsuit over the old Pungo Hospital building.

Belhaven, located in Beaufort County near the Pamlico Sound, lost its local hospital in 2014, when the hospital’s owners opted to shut down the small healthcare facility because it couldn’t afford to stay open after North Carolina lawmakers chose to not expand Medicaid coverage in the state.

Earlier this summer, Vidant Health opened a 24-hour urgent care clinic but the nearest emergency room isn’t for 30 miles. Local physicians in the area also closed their practices to work for the new clinic.

Belhaven’s mayor, Adam O’Neal, has been fighting the Pungo Hospital closing and lobbying for it to reopen. Issues that were struck down by the Court of Appeals included allegations that closing the hospital violated a 1948 deed for the property and that the plaintiffs participated in unfair and deceptive trade practices.

“Here, we are satisfied that the language of the 1948 Deed does nothing more than express the purpose for which Belhaven wished the subject property to be used,” the Appeals opinion states.

Pantego Creek LLC, which owns the property, began demolition of the hospital Monday with the removal of asbestos, according to a WNCT article. O’Neal said the town’s attorneys are determining whether to appeal the court’s decisions.

“The community is now moving towards making an offer for the Hospital Facility this Friday. The community is totally against tearing down the hospital if it can be reopened” O’Neal told the TV station. “We believe it can be reopened.”

Pantego Creek, meanwhile, issued the following statement:

“Pungo Medical Center, led by Belhaven Mayor Adam O’ Neal, has had more than two and a half years to find an alternative solution for a new hospital. To date, this effort has not demonstrated that conditions necessary for the now-expired USDA loan commitment can be met, nor have the Mayor or the Medical Center presented a viable plan with a realistic timeline. Since the old Pungo District Hospital closed more than 2 years ago, the aging buildings have deteriorated to the point that the buildings will have to be demolished and completely rebuilt in order for a hospital to open on the property, a circumstance that would make any plan very difficult to successfully implement.”

The Daily Reflector reported that Pungo Medical Center, a nonprofit created to oversee the reopening of a hospital on the site, plans to offer Pantego Creek $500,000 on Friday to purchase the property.

A community protest is planned at 6 p.m. today at the property in an effort to try and save the hospital.

 

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