NC hospital plans to close, blames lack of Medicaid expansion

The owners of a hospital in North Carolina plan to shut down the facility because the state has chosen not to expand Medicaid eligibility--a scenario that may soon become familiar to providers elsewhere.

Pungo Hospital in Belhaven, N.C. will close within the next six months, following the unanimous vote by the board of directors of its owners, Vidant Health System, reported the Daily Reflector. The closure will cost about 100 jobs. The owners plan to replace the hospital with an outpatient facility.

According to the Reflector, the closure was spurred by the decision of North Carolina lawmakers not to expand the Medicaid program. More than a quarter of the residents of the surrounding community live at or below the poverty line, according to Think Progress, which means an expanded Medicaid program was considered necessary for the facility's long-term survival. Expanding Medicaid under the auspices of the Affordable Care Act would reduce North Carolina's uninsured population by 48 percent. Hospital leaders in Michigan, which recently chose to expand Medicaid, said the decision will be beneficial to their bottom lines.

"Now can you imagine your son being in a car accident, and somebody taking him to your local general practitioner? That's not acceptable, and they're not communicating with the community at all," Belhaven Mayor Adam O'Neal told WITN. He added that he believed corporate greed was behind the decision to close the hospital. Local residents have staged at least one protest since the owners announced the closure.

Vidant officials not only blamed the lack of Medicaid expansion, but the fact the hospital was aging. The outpatient facility will be built from scratch and will include a helipad for transfers to Vidant Medical Center in Greenville, N.C., the region's only trauma center, according to WITN.

To learn more:
- read the Daily Reflector article
- here's the Think Progress article
- check out the WITN article