Mayor plans walk to D.C. to save Pungo Hospital
BELHAVEN — The mayor of Belhaven is planning to walk to Washington, D.C., in hopes of saving a local hospital.
Mayor Adam O'Neal is planning the walk in an effort to save Vidant Pungo Hospital. On July 1, Vidant Pungo closed, leaving residents of Hyde and eastern Beaufort County without a hospital or emergency room.
O'Neal said Friday that he will start his walk Monday. He said his decision to make the walk is an illustration of how serious the problem is.
"We just had a lady die Monday due to us not having an emergency room," O'Neal said. "That's a problem. We need more attention on it, and we need some action on it."
Belhaven is 314 miles south of Washington. By car, it's a six-hour, eight-minute drive.
Once in Washington, O'Neal says he 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. 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.
"The lady who passed away on Monday waited for a helicopter for an hour to get help for a heart attack, where she used to be able to get to an emergency room in 30 minutes," O'Neal said. "It's just not right."