Beaufort Co. Commissioners expected to dissolve county hospital board

WASHINGTON N.C. (WNCT) – The Beaufort County Commissioners are expected to vote to dissolve the Beaufort County Health System Board during Tuesday’s meeting.

The board, set up in 2001, was intended to insulate Beaufort County from any possible liabilities stemming from the hospital. It was continued in 2011 when Vidant took over the hospital, and was still responsible for any liability suits dating back to before Vidant took control of the hospital.

Commissioner Hood Richardson said if the board is dissolved, no one will be left to oversee Vidant and make sure they uphold their promises with Vidant Beaufort Hospital. He’s afraid without that oversight, Vidant may close Vidant Beaufort Hospital like they did Pungo Hospital in July 2014.

When Vidant took over the hospital, they gave the board around $6.98 million to help offset any possible liabilities. The sum currently sits at around $6.5 million, as the only finished liability suit cost them around $400,000. If the board isn’t dissolved before September 1, 2016, the board then retains that $6.5 million and can use it however they want. If the board is dissolved, that money then goes into the county’s general fund.

Richardson said he’s fearful that if the commissioners take over the money, they won’t use it for healthcare as it should be.

“They want the $6.5 million that’s in the trust fund to put with the $11 million that they have so that they can build a jail,” Richardson said.

Commissioners seeking to dissolve the board said that isn’t true. They intend to use the funds to further expand EMS services and improve healthcare to all county residents. Ron Buzzeo, who voted against the jail, said there are no plans to use the money for anything else.

“In order to build the jail, there would have to be a vote of the residents,” Buzzeo said. “I’m sticking to that commitment.”

Buzzeo said all indications are that Vidant Health is interested in expanding services at Vidant Beaufort and improving the current facility. He doesn’t believe Vidant would close the hospital in Washington like they did in Belhaven.

When asked whether he would agree to dissolve the board if there was a written document stipulating the money could only be used for healthcare, Richardson said he still doesn’t think he would be on board.

“When they show me that I can’t trust them, I don’t want anything to do with them,” Richardson said.

Richardson said there is still one liability suit that hasn’t been settled. If the board is dissolved, the county and taxpayers could be on the hook for a possible settlement in that case.

If the board is dissolved, it would take effect September 1, 2015.


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