Local News

Belhaven mayor making 273-mile trek to DC in effort to save hospital

Posted July 15, 2014

— The mayor of the small Beaufort County town of Belhaven is walking to Washington, D.C., in hopes of saving a local hospital.

Republican Mayor Adam O'Neal began the 14-day, 273-mile trek on Monday in an effort to save Vidant Pungo Hospital, which closed July 1, leaving approximately 23,000 residents of Hyde and eastern Beaufort counties without a hospital or emergency room.

The closest medical facility for critical care is more than 80 miles away.

O'Neal said the walk symbolizes how serious the problem is.

"I think people need to know what happened, and I think the more people that know, the more likelihood that justice will be served," he said.

O'Neal said 48-year-old Portia Gibbs died of a heart attack July 7 while waiting for a helicopter to take her to the nearest hospital.

"She was in the back of an ambulance for an hour, sitting still in a parking lot at a high school – waiting for a helicopter instead of being on her way to get help," he said. "That's the kind of thing that's going to happen over and over again."

Once in Washington, O'Neal wants to speak with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and President Barack Obama about the hospital shutdown.

Vidant Health System executives cited North Carolina's decision not to participate in federally funded Medicaid expansion as a factor in the decision to close the hospital.

Roger Robertson, president of Vidant Community Hospitals, said in a June 30 statement that the health system tried to work with Belhaven to have the town take over the hospital.

After multiple attempts, however, he said, "the lack of response made it apparent that the town knew that it did not have a plan to take over hospital operations."

The hospital was to be replaced with an outpatient multi-specialty clinic, but it hasn't opened yet. Medical services are being provided by two local family medical practices.

State NAACP President Rev. William Barber is throwing the organization's support behind O'Neal.

Barber, who is accompanying the mayor on the first leg of the trip, has sent a letter to federal and state leaders asking them to take action to save the hospital and to provide support for other rural healthcare systems.

Barber wants Gov. Pat McCrory and lawmakers to expand Medicaid and to draft legislation that prevents hospital corporations from shutting down health care facilities in rural areas.

"Democrats and Republicans can both get on board to save these rural hospitals – that is something that should not be controversial," said Patricial Garrison


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  • icdumbpeople Jul 15, 2014

    No people. the problem is these people coming into the ER for a pregnancy test. Or the people that bring their 5 children in the ER because one of the has the sniffles. ( with no fever) They have free health care - so why not? It would cost them 10 bucks to get cold meds at the drug store. BUT IT IS FREE HERE! What is the matter with you people? Look where the problem is.

  • Todd Singleton Jul 15, 2014
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    Hate to spoil the ideology Stymie but it's federal funding DECLINED by your Tea People in the General Assembly and your Mayor McCrony - who are in Raleigh. Why? No one can quite figure that out mathematically. But it must have been a good move because it was anti-Obama right?

  • Todd Singleton Jul 15, 2014
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    20 miles a day is not that far to walk. Unless you are completely and totally attached to your couch with Velcro. So ya, for a lot of proud, McDonalds toting, gut loving, canned beer drinking NC loafs it might as well be 1000 miles a day. You know, the ones who need a nearby hospital for their self inflicted conditions but rant against evil gov. medicaid because it hurts their biblical beliefs, violates the second amendment and *may* appear to their kin folk they support a black President.

  • Todd Singleton Jul 15, 2014
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    This is exactly what I was thinking when I saw this story on CNN. He is, however, drawing national attention to the issue for several other red states. Other Tea People states that ignorantly rejected medicaid expansion for purely idealistic, pandering reasons by those without the foresight to see the Tea People's imminent demise. Nope, can't spend your way out of debt. Can't save your way out of debt either when there are bills to pay. The answer is the same so many households seek today: more revenue. Simple math becomes real complicated when it doesn't justify hate and misplaced aggression. Take a tax break Big Corp, Inc.! ....it's the cure for everything!

  • coachkayhasmrsa Jul 15, 2014

    just think of all the money we would have if it was not spent on people who abused the system. Barber loves to talk out of both sides of his mouth.

  • katgotyertongue Jul 15, 2014

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    Sorry, the problem is in Raleigh. The decision to not expand medicaid was up to our dutiful legislature. They made the deicsion, now they need to stand up and take responsibilty for the situation and not pass it off on Washington.

  • jmcdow2792 Jul 15, 2014

    273 miles in 14 days? That's almost 20 miles a day in this heat. Hope he makes it. But, my money would be on not getting there. He may need a hospital.

  • stymieindurham Jul 15, 2014

    Uh, Hello, Your problem is in Raleigh, not in Washington.....
    Uh, NOOO!! It's called federal funding. THAT'S in Washington.

  • T-ONE Jul 15, 2014

    We don't have money for something very critical to a community such as a hospital but we want 3.7B for illegals immigrants. Good luck Mr. Mayor I hope your plight doesn't fall on deaf ears.

  • katgotyertongue Jul 15, 2014

    Uh, Hello, Your problem is in Raleigh, not in Washington.....