When a Hospital Closes - UPDATE - What has actually happened?

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Fall 2014


Collected by Bill Terrey, Medical Recovery Services from information supplied by storyofamerica.org
In our previous Newsletter we highlighted the closing of Pungo District Hospital located in Belhaven, NC, leaving over 20,000 people in the area without adequate medical services and left 100 healthcare workers without a work.

There have been 30 home foreclosures in this town of just over 2,000 people, some local businesses have closed. Belhaven was an attractive community to many retirees in the past. Now???


"How many people go retire somewhere, where it doesn't even have a hospital?"
- Mayor Adam O’Neal

The map here shows that a drive (often over poor country roads) from Engelhard, NC to the nearest hospital in Washington, NC would take at least one hour and twenty minutes. (Engelhard is a small unincorporated fishing village in Hyde County. It is the eastern-most community which at one time was served by the Pungo District Hospital in Belhaven.)


“If someone gets sick, how far are you from the closest healthcare? If you want a community to continue to thrive and continue to grow, people are going to go to places where they have healthcare.”
- Bob Etheridge, former NC congressman and rural health advocate


But as significant and devastating the economic impact may be, the human impact has been far worse for people who depended on Pungo District Hospital for urgent care that was now unavailable.

Portia Gibbs, wife and mother, age 48, was having chest pains. Husband, Barry, put her in the family car and drove her to Belhaven, just 47 miles away. But the hospital in Belhaven was closed, and now the closest emergency room was 75 miles away from their home. Belhaven ambulance EMT‟s requested a helicopter to take Portia to Norfolk.

“I know it took at least an hour for the helicopter to get here.” (The helicopter had to land in the school parking lot.) “Another ten, fifteen minutes went by and the EMTI came out there and he said, „Barry, we‟ve done all we can do. We got her back four or five times and her heart just can‟t take it.‟

She didn‟t have the opportunity because Belhaven was closed. If they could have been working on her and left…the only one who knows is the good Lord…whether she‟d made it or not. But we never had the chance. We don‟t have that chance no more. With us being so far away from everything and not having an emergency room here…my wife‟s dead. I don‟t want anyone else to go through this.”

- Barry Gibbs
- Barry Gibbs

“We have a nursing home here in Swan Quarter; it‟s called Cross Creek Nursing Home. There have been a lot of deaths because the residents couldn‟t make it to the hospital.” Joseph Whitney, Nurse Assistant

“We had a lady off a boat that was coming down the Intracoastal Waterway that went to the Clinic to get some help. They couldn‟t help her. She didn‟t have any transportation. She went back to the boat and the next morning she was dead. She probably wouldn‟t be dead if we had a hospital.”

Adam O’Neal, Belhaven Mayor

Vidant Health has proposed to construct a clinic in Belhaven. However, Dr. Mark Beamer, local physician with Pungo Family Medicine, states, “They say they‟re going to have a state of the art medical center but what this is going to be is basically a doctor‟s office. We‟re not going to have colonoscopy, we‟re not going to have mammography, we‟re not going to have ultrasound, we‟re not going to have CT. We‟re going to have rudimentary X-ray. So, basically, what do you have in that clinic but a doctor‟s office?”

Dr. Charles Boyette, former Pungo Hospital Chief of Staff, town physician for 50 years and former mayor declares emphatically, “The new Clinic that is being proposed is really a primary care Clinic, not a multi-specialty Clinic. It will not have any emergency room capabilities. “Urgent care is not Emergent care.”

“Last night I had a neighbor that had a mini stroke. We raced her down to the Clinic. Guess what the Clinic could do for her? Absolutely nothing! Now how about if this lady was having a stroke…a big stroke?” Adam O’Neal, Belhaven Mayor

“Our ability to recruit MD‟s will be severely hampered. I don‟t know who will take care of my patients (when I retire). I look over my shoulder and there‟s nobody…And I have no glimmer of hope that there‟s going to be another MD to follow unless the situation changes.”

Dr. Mark Beamer, Pungo Family Medicine


Belhaven Mayor, Adam O'Neal probably summed it up best by relating the following story: “I'll never forget when we were in Washington D.C. as we started our walk the last day to the Capitol from Reagan Airport.” (The walk, to bring attention to the hospital‟s closing, covered 273 miles and took 14 days.)

“A man came up on a ten speed bicycle and he stopped me and he said, 'Are you the mayor?' I said, 'Yes, sir.' He said, 'I wanted to come up and let you know that my Dad was saved in your hospital. We went to the Outer Banks for vacation and we came back and we went through Belhaven, he had a heart attack and that hospital actually saved my Dad's life.”
Mayor Adam O’Neal & friends
on the road to D.C.

Note: All quotes and images are by the Story of America a public access site on You Tube. To view additional information regarding Belhaven‟s efforts to reopen the Pungo District Hospital, as reported by Story of America,
go to: http://www.storyofamerica.org/deeds_and_misdeeds





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