Surprise vote by Beaufort Co. commissioners creates tension

Surprise vote by Beaufort Co. commissioners creates tension (Image 1)

Beaufort County commissioners voted to not discuss anything related to the town of Belhaven seeking a loan to reopen Pungo Hospital for the next six months.

The move came minutes after commissioners again rejected underwriting a $643,000 loan Belhaven leaders were seeking to reopen their shuttered hospital.

“This is a heartless board. This is a cruel board,” Commissioner Hood Richardson said. “This is a sinful board from the standpoint of looking at for the welfare of the citizens of Beaufort County.”

Since May, Commissioner Richardson pushed his colleagues to guarantee Belhaven’s loan claiming there was little risk and wouldn’t cost the taxpayers anything.

“55 jobs in the town of belhaven [will be created],” Richardson siad. “That’s economic development. Aside from the fact that we’re providing medical care, those are good jobs for educated people.”

However, commissioners including Frankie Waters said the changing healthcare climate and the hospital’s business plan proved to be too risky.

“If the county wants to spend money, I think we need to spend it on paramedics,” Waters said. “Not on a hospital that has struggled and struggled  and struggled for years.”

Every commissioner except Richardson rejected underwriting the loan and supported not discussing the matter for six months.

This happened as Belhaven Mayor Adam O’Neal began his second walk to Washington, D.C. to advocate for rural healthcare to help reopen Pungo Hospital.

“I’m not shocked at all,” O’Neal said by phone. “Obviously, they don’t care for Belhaven, and we’re not shocked, and we don’t need them to open our hospital back up.”

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