Mayor Adam O'Neal
Mayor Adam O'Neal of Belhaven, NC is parting ways with his fellow Republicans and taking up the fight for Medicaid expansion following the closure of a hospital in his community. (Photo of O'Neal from his Twitter account.)

NC GOP mayor marches to DC to urge Medicaid expansion, prevention of 'medical deserts'

The Republican mayor of the small town of Belhaven, NC began a 273-mile walk to Washington, DC today to draw attention to the health care crisis threatening his rural coastal community following the closure of the area's only hospital. Vidant Pungo Hospital served over 20,000 people in Beaufort and Hyde counties -- an area of North Carolina with higher-than-average poverty rates and where many residents are uninsured.

After a prayer of blessing by NC NAACP President Rev. Dr. William Barber, Mayor Adam O'Neal set off on foot for the nation's capital, where he plans to ask President Obama and Congress for help. On July 1, Vidant Health closed the 49-bed hospital for financial reasons, forcing residents of the Belhaven area to travel more than an hour to receive emergency care. The town had tried to take ownership of the hospital to prevent its closure, but negotiations broke down. Vidant has opened a clinic in Belhaven, but it doesn't provide emergency care.

The mayor will stop in towns and cities along the way to deliver a message that puts him at odds with his party's leadership: that expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act could have prevented the hospital's closing and the creation of a "medical desert." North Carolina and 23 other states -- all of them Republican-controlled and including most states in the South -- have refused Medicaid expansion.

O'Neal is also raising concerns about wealthy nonprofit hospital corporations like Greenville, NC-based Vidant Health shutting down critical access hospitals like Vidant Pungo. "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," O'Neal wrote in a press release published in his local paper. "We the people need to stand together to protect healthcare for all of us."

The hospital's closure may have already claimed a life: Last week, 48-year-old Portia Gibbs of Hyde County died after suffering a diabetic episode that triggered a heart attack. Vidant Pungo was 47 miles from the Gibbs' home, but now the closest hospital is 75 miles away. Emergency responders decided to wait for a helicopter instead of driving -- but it took over an hour to arrive, and by then it was too late. Though some emergency responders have questioned whether Gibbs would have survived even if Vidant Pungo was still open, her grieving family points out that they will never know.

"With us being so far away from everything, and not having an emergency room here, my wife's dead," her widower, Barry Gibbs, told Story of America as part of its "Battle for Belhaven" documentary web series. Watch that video here:

O'Neal and others charge that the hospital's closing violates the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The NC NAACP filed a complaint under the law's Title VI banning discrimination by government agencies that receive federal funds, arguing that the hospital's closing would disproportionately affect minorities. The Department of Justice offered mediation, and Vidant Health agreed to work out a settlement allowing the hospital to be returned to the community -- but then shut its doors anyway. The NAACP refiled the federal complaint.

"This is not about mere dollars and cents," said the NC NAACP's Barber, who joined O'Neal for the start of his walk. "It's about life and death."

For more information about the march and the hospital's closing, visit the website www.SaveOurHospital.org.

Image: 
Mayor Adam O'Neal of Belhaven, NC is parting ways with his fellow Republicans and taking up the fight for Medicaid expansion following the closure of a hospital in his community. (Photo of O'Neal from his Twitter account.)
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Voters should send a message

Voters should send a message to those State legislatures that they do not approve of their Republican legislatures' refusal to expand Medicare so they can protect those who fear paying more taxes.

Start a voter ratings page that rates individual legislature on what majority voters care about, just like the NRA does on gun control positions for various legislatures. Have the voters tell their representatives what they think before, during, and after, election time.

I wish the mayor luck.

This is the reason why NOT

This is the reason why NOT for profit hospitals where CEO's are taking home 5 million dollar bonuses and one million dollar salaries has HURT all of us. This is NOT about poor people milking a system- this is about Corporate GREED dictating the state - literally stealing money from hard working tax payers and hurting our most vulnerable people. When will this stop? I applaud the mayor. We need more people like this man.

I don't see how going to

I don't see how going to Washington to speak with Obama is going to help. He needs to go to Raleigh and speak with the Republican governor there to convince him that blocking the ACA provisions to the state is going to kill his residents (and registered voters). I think the people of NC should see this as a wake-up call to either force their politicians to accept the ACA, or vote them out in favor of people who will.

ACA Death Panels

THE TRUE DEATH PANELS

So is it a classic case of Psych 101 projection, or just bitter irony coming home to roost.. when it turns out to be the Republican Legislatures, including North Carolina's; that, on Principle, have rejected grants offered to expand Medicare, using tax money already paid by its citizens to keep their hospitals open after the business conglomerates took them over, milked any profits before declaring bankruptcy and closing the facilities to protect the bottom line. There have already been documented deaths from this action, and unlike the Death Panels predicted as part of ACA; so far it is the dogma of right wing politics that is selecting those who will die, by closing their care facilities rather than accept free Medicare, and admit that Obama-care is working better every day. Tea Party attempts to opt out of already allocated Medi-Care funding will not be looked upon kindly by the electorate.

Timot28, keep your political

Timot28, keep your political garbage away. Somebody died and their family is left grieving, and you're turning it into a political game. Have more respect for the dead.

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