Vidant Health has opened a 24-hour urgent care clinic in Belhaven. It offers minor emergency and pre-natal care, a full lab, X-rays and a general family practice.
Vidant's Chief Medical Officer Mark Rumans said serious emergencies are rare, and the clinic can offer air and ground transportation to the nearest emergency department 30 miles away.
"The most common needs in the community, especially in Eastern North Carolina, are management of things like diabetes, heart disease, chronic complex conditions and that's what primary care is all about," Rumans said.
Two local physicians have moved their practices to Vidant and the clinic is recruiting a third doctor.
Vidant closed the local Pungo Hospital in 2014, claiming millions of dollars in operating losses and unpaid care. Dr. Rumans said the new clinic will be more cost effective.
"Patients are seeing more of their care in ambulatory settings," he said. "What used to be taken care of in an inpatient is now being taken care of in an out-patient, so that's not unique to North Carolina. That's happening all across the country, and reimbursement is following that model."
Belhaven Mayor Adam O'Neal disputes the financial insolvency of Pungo Hospital. He said closing the ER and consolidating doctors' offices has cost the region jobs and lives. Independent doctors in Belhaven have now closed their practices to work for Vidant. And there's now no emergency room for 30 miles.
"It would be like somebody coming to your house and stealing all your furniture and all your appliances, and then coming back a couple years later and giving you a new coffee maker and then wanting you to be happy about it," O'Neal said. "They have destroyed our healthcare in our area. They have taken emergency services away from 20,000 people. And people are dying due to the actions they have taken."
O'Neal has been lobbying state and federal officials to reopen the Pungo Hospital. He has secured a federal grant to buy the building but says Vidant's influence over the building's governing board has prevented such a sale.