When A Hospital Closes


People in this one-stoplight farming town really want their hospital back.

The July 1 closure of Vidant Pungo Hospital, which gained national attention through Mayor Adam O’Neal’s 273-mile protest walk to Washington, D.C., is a constant refrain here. People gossip about it over dinner at the Fish Hooks Cafe, or during the Tuesday night bluegrass and gospel music open mic night, held just down the street from the vacant hospital.

In a scenario playing out in rural areas across the country, the closing has left local doctors wondering how they will make sure patients get timely care, given the long distances to other hospitals, and residents worrying about what to do in an emergency and where to get lab tests and physical therapy. “Half of them aren’t going anywhere,” Dr. Charles Boyette said about people who already seem reticent about driving farther for medical treatment. “They’re taking a chance on if they’ll be alive or dead after the emergency passes. The disaster has already started.”

People in the community also wonder about the closure’s long-term impact. After all, the hospital was the largest employer and health care provider in the area.

Belhaven, located in eastern North Carolina about two and a half hours southeast of Raleigh, is home to more than 1,600 people. The median income here is $17,670 -- three times less than the state median. The hospital also drew rural residents from surrounding Beaufort County and neighboring Hyde County.

The 65-year-old hospital closed almost three years after Vidant Health, the largest health system in this part of the state, took over the financially-strapped facility. Built in 1948, it was one of the first federally-designated “critical access hospitals” in the country – meaning it was located in a medically underserved area and 35 miles from the nearest hospital. But now that it’s shuttered, the town must come to grips with the new reality. At least 30 other critical access facilities have closed in the past three years.


Articles in this issue:


  • Masthead

    Editor-in Chief:
    Kirsten Nicole

    Editorial Staff:
    Kirsten Nicole
    Stan Kenyon
    Robyn Bowman
    Kimberly McNabb
    Lisa Gordon
    Stephanie Robinson

    Kirsten Nicole
    Stan Kenyon
    Liz Di Bernardo
    Cris Lobato
    Elisa Howard
    Susan Cramer

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