The Republican mayor of Belhaven, NC began an almost 300-mile march to Washington, D.C., Monday to advocate for Medicaid expansion and call on national leaders to intervene in the closing of Vidant Pungo Hospital.
The critical access hospital, which provided emergency medical services to more than 25,000 people in Beaufort and Hyde counties, was shut down by Vidant Health on July 1 despite an agreement reached during federal mediation aimed at transferring control of the hospital to the town of Belhaven. The next closest hospital, also owned by Vidant Health, is 30 minutes away — a 90 minute drive from the center of Hyde County.
Letter from Belhaven Mayor Adam O’Neal:
This Monday, July 14 at 9:00 am, I will be starting a walk to Washington, D.C. from our Belhaven Hospital. This walk will be for 4 main issues. First, we need a law that stops immoral organizations like Vidant Health from closing Critical Access Hospitals without at least a 1 year notice to allow local communities a chance at saving their emergency room services. Secondly, I will be pushing for Medicaid Expansion. Our state’s refusal to accept expansion is taking 2 billion dollars a year out of our state’s healthcare system. Thirdly, Americans need to realize the rural healthcare struggles across our country. In the last year, more rural hospitals have closed than in the previous 15 years. Every hospital closure means deaths!!! Lastly, Vidant Health’s abuse of our town and area needs exposure.
Vidant Health came to our town representing themselves as our savior and proceeded to rip our areas heart out. They have had no regard for our community or lives. The mediation agreement Vidant signed is the most recent example of their total disregard for written agreements.
On my trip to Washington, D.C., I will be asking for our government to enact laws that stop slick tricks from being used to close Critical Access Hospitals. Not for Profit companies that make $100,000,000 in a year shouldn’t be able to close a hospital like Belhaven’s they own for a new immoral business plan. Not for Profit companies that have $550,000,000 in reserves shouldn’t be able to rip out a communities Critical Access Hospital and keep their Non for Profit designation. Hopefully, Belhaven will be a starting point for the people of our country to be more important for once than greedy executives’ million dollar bonus’s. We the people need to stand together to protect healthcare for all of us.
Mayor of Belhaven
O’Neal plans to march 20 miles a day for 14 days in hopes of scheduling a meeting with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and President Barack Obama regarding the healthcare crisis resulting from the hospital closure.
“I’m walking for Medicaid expansion, walking for a law to stop conglomerates from buying out their competition, and walking for a 48-year old woman who died on Monday, possibly as a direct result of our hospital being closed,” O’Neal said at a Beaufort County Commissioners meeting last week. “Any time a critical access hospital closes, it should have signatures from the Health and Human Services director to allow it.”
NC NAACP President Rev. William Barber will join O’Neal on the first leg of of the two-week march:
DURHAM, NC – The Republican mayor of Belhaven, NC will begin a 14-day, 273-mile walk to the nation’s capital on Monday, July 14 to petition political leaders at the federal and state level for help with a healthcare crisis that has already cost lives and threatened the well-being of thousands in his rural community. Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II, president of the North Carolina NAACP, along with Bill Booth of the local Hyde Co. branch, will join Mayor Adam O’Neal for the first leg of his journey as the NC NAACP continues to fight for this rural hospital in the streets and in the courts.
When Vidant Health, Inc. purchased, and announced the closure of Pungo District Hospital, O’Neal worked closely with the civil rights organization and the Forward Together Moral Movement to advocate for the hospital and the more than 23,000 people who depend on it. Earlier this year, the NC NAACP filed a Title VI complaint under the Civil Rights Act earlier this year, arguing that the hospital closing would disproportionately impact minorities.
The Department of Justice offered mediation, and Vidant Health agreed to a mediated settlement under which the hospital was to be returned to the community. But the terms of the settlement were not adhered to, the hospital shut its doors on July 1 and the NAACP has refiled its federal complaint.
Thousands in O’Neal’s region must now travel as many as 84 miles to receive critical care. When he walks, the mayor will carry with him the story of Portia Gibbs, 48, the first person to die for lack of emergency care since the hospital’s closing. Her husband and her children will be there on Monday at 9 a.m. to see the mayor off.
Dr. Barber will say a prayer to bless the mayor’s journey before walking with him Monday from Belhaven. Dr. Barber will also join O’Neal on Tuesday in Plymouth, NC – Dr. Barber’s hometown.
Once in Washington D.C., O’Neal plans to petition U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and members of Congress to take immediate steps to support small-town hospitals. O’Neal believes that hospital corporations are buying and closing rural health facilities to cherry pick patients who are wealthy and/or well-insured while leaving thousands without emergency care. Expanding Medicaid, and embracing a program in the Affordable Care Act called Accountable Care Organizations are two ways to prevent this deadly trend.
For more background on the Forward Together Movement’s campaign with Mayor O’Neal to save the Belhaven hospital, please check out Story of America’s coverage and MSNBC’s “All in with Chris Hayes” segment.
From a media advisory released Monday:
O’Neal, who has a history of strong ties to the African American community, has welcomed the support of the North Carolina NAACP, which filed a Title 6 complaint under the U.S. Civil Rights Act earlier this year arguing that the hospital closing would disproportionately impact minorities. The Department of Justice offered mediation, and Vidant Health agreed to a mediated settlement under which the hospital was to be returned to the community. The terms of the settlement were not adhered to, however, the hospital shut its doors, and the NAACP has refiled its federal complaint.
O’Neal plans to petition U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and members of Congress when he arrives in DC. O’Neal believes that hospital corporations are buying and closing rural health facilities to cherry pick patients who are wealthy and/or well-insured while leaving thousands without emergency care. Expanding Medicaid, and embracing a program in the Affordable Care Act called Accountable Care Organizations are two ways to prevent this deadly trend.
Story of America‘s interview with the family of Portia Gibbs, the first person in Hyde County to pass away while awaiting emergency health care following the closing of Vidant Pungo Hospital:
The march has already gained the attention of national media, bringing much-needed coverage to a story that has so far been overlooked by many of the state’s major news outlets.
Belhaven, NC (July 14 – kickoff at 9am in front of Pungo Hospital)
Plymouth, NC (July 15)
Ahoskie, NC (July 16)
Franklin, VA (July 19)
Petersburg, VA (July 21)
Richmond, VA (July 22)
Ashland, VA (July 23)
Fredericksburg, VA (July 25)
Woodbridge, VA (July 26)
Alexandria, VA (July 27)
Washington, DC (July 28)