Civil rights complaint filed over closure of eastern NC hospital
Posted March 5, 2014 7:09 p.m. EST
Raleigh, N.C. — The federal government is investigating Vidant Health's decision to close a hospital in eastern North Carolina.
The hospital system plans to close Vidant Pungo Hospital in Belhaven on April 1, despite local protests, and replace it with an urgent care clinic. Emergency cases would have to go to a hospital 30 miles away in Washington, N.C.
Greenville-based Vidant cites financial issues that include the state's decision not to expand Medicaid. Many of the low-income residents served by the Belhaven hospital are uninsured.
According to the latest census data, 55 percent of Belhaven residents are black and 28 percent live in poverty.
Belhaven Mayor Adam O'Neal said Vidant is breaking a promise made when it acquired the former Pungo District Hospital in 2011 to keep the facility open regardless of its financial position.
O'Neal and local residents joined the state chapter of the NAACP to file a Title VI civil rights complaint with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in January, and the agency's Office of Civil Rights has opened an investigation.
"Vidant's decision will disproportionately impact and endanger the poor and people of color by stripping the community of the only medical facility required by federal law to provide care to all, regardless of an individual's insurance status or ability to pay," the NAACP said in a statement. "An urgent care center, which Vidant is proposing to build in the hospital's stead, is under no such federal obligation to our most vulnerable populations."