Belhaven mayor marches to (big) Washington to protest hospital closing, calls for N.C. expansion of Medicaid

By: - July 14, 2014 12:34 pm

The mayor of a small coastal town with a recently-shuttered rural hospital began a nearly 300 mile walk to Washington, D.C. to call attention to his community’s lack of emergency medical care.

Belhaven Mayor Adam O'Neal  (Photo by Adam Linker)
Belhaven Mayor Adam O’Neal
(Photo by Adam Linker)

Adam O’Neal, the Republican mayor of Belhaven on North Carolina’s Inner Banks, began his walk after a brokered plan with Vidant Health to keep the Pungo District Hospital open fell apart last month. He’s expected to arrive in Washington in two weeks.

The nearest hospital and emergency care to the Beaufort County town is now in Greenville, nearly 50 miles and an hour’s drive away from Belhaven.

O’Neal has partnered with the N.C. NAACP to call for both Medicaid expansion and for the Belhaven hospital to stay open.

Vidant Health officials, when it initially announced its plan to close the hospital, said the N.C. legislature’s decision to not expand Medicaid meant the hospital wouldn’t be able to afford to stay open with a large segment of uninsured residents.

The Carolina Mercury posted this article today about O’Neal’s march, and included a letter from the mayor about the reasons behind the march.

From O’Neal’s letter:

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.

Below is a video about the family of Portia Gibbs, a 48-year-old woman who died last week from complications of a heart attack while waiting for an airlift to the Greenville hospital.

Supporters of the effort to keep the hospital open have questioned whether she would have lived if the hospital was open.


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Sarah Ovaska-Few

Sarah Ovaska-Few, former Investigative Reporter for N.C. Policy Watch for five years, conducted investigations and watchdog reports into issues of statewide importance. Ovaska-Few was also staff writer and reporter for six years with the News & Observer in Raleigh, where she reported on governmental, legal, political and criminal justice issues.