• 43°

Vidant to cut Belhaven clinic hours

Vidant Health will be reducing the hours of operation of the Vidant – Belhaven multispecialty clinic, effective July 13.

New hours of operation will be from 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., seven days a week, according to Vidant Health communications specialist Brian Wudkwych. The reduced hours will also reduce  the number of night-shift employees by one nurse, one medical records clerk and one provider.

“Vidant Health has been vocal about the challenges of delivering care in eastern North Carolina as well as the need for policies at the state and federal level to support rural health access. Our organization delivers care in one of the most difficult markets in the country with a high burden of disease and underserved population. The COVID-19 pandemic has also caused financial strain on health care organizations nationwide, and Vidant is not immune,” Wudkwych wrote in an email. “Making decisions that impact a team member’s life is difficult and is not something we take lightly. Vidant is taking action to support these team members through severance benefits and assistance in applying to other potential positions within the organization for which they are qualified. Vidant is resilient and remains committed to its mission to improve the health and well-being of eastern North Carolina.”

The decision to reduce hours, however, is under fire from some residents, as the 24-hour clinic was built to, if not replace, then fill the health care gap in eastern Beaufort County and Hyde County, when Vidant Health made the decision to close the former Pungo District Hospital in 2014. The closure, and resulting loss of more than 130 jobs, prompted a years-long battle to reopen the hospital under new ownership, including lawsuits in state and federal court, walks to promote awareness of rural health care to Washington, D.C., the support of the NAACP. Efforts to buy the hospital from its governing board failed and the battle came to an abrupt halt when the hospital — at that point suffering from structural, as well as mold, issues — was demolished in late 2016.

According to Town of Belhaven Manager Lynn Davis, feelings seem to mixed about the reduction in hours.

“I think my general sense is that the wound has not still healed with everything that went on with the hospital, but, while great progress has been made over the past few years, I think it is going to reopen that wound for some people,” Davis said. “I’ve seen a number of people making a statement in a positive tone: we’ll still have great service, we still have extended access to it — we just don’t have health care for 24 hours (a day). … All that being said, it is a business decision, and I understand that a business decision had to be made.”

Wudkwych wrote that the Belhaven Immediate Care Clinic, within the Multispecialty Clinic, has been underutilized over the past several years, averaging one patient per night.