Monday, June 01, 2015

Republican N.C. mayor, activist renew walk to Washington D.C. to protest rural hospital closings

This morning representatives from about a dozen states began a 283-mile walk from North Carolina to Washington, D.C., to protest rural hospital closings, Dale Mackey reports for the Daily Yonder. The walk comes one year after Belhaven, N.C., Republican Mayor Adam O’Neal and civil rights advocate Bob Zellner walked 272 miles to protest the closure of a local hospital—partly due to the Republican-led state's refusal to expand Medicaid under federal health reform—after a local woman died from a heart attack while waiting for emergency services. O'Neal and Zellner will once again lead the walk.

Even though O'Neal and Zellner walked most of the way by themselves, O'Neal said the walk was a success, Mackey writes. O'Neal told Mackey, “We went from a hopeless situation in our town to now, when in the next six months to a year we’ll have our hospital open again—I’m certain of that. And that walk is the reason.”

Zellner, who was 75 during last year's walk, said the experience was rewarding, Mackey writes. Zellner told him, "You know what was the most amazing thing? Sometimes it was just the mayor and myself walking, way back in the backwoods down the little country roads. And poor people in old pick up trucks would come by, and they would hold a ten dollar bill out the window and give it to the mayor. And the mayor said, ‘I know those people don’t have very many ten dollars to give out.’ I get emotional when I think about it. The effect on people was electric.”

From 2010 to 2014, a total of 37 rural hospitals closed or were converted to non-emergency care, according to the Cecil G. Sheps Center at the University of North Carolina, Mackey writes. "The 21 hospitals that closed completely were located farther from other hospitals and served a higher proportion on non-white patients." (This year's planned route)

"O’Neal says that one reason so many hospitals are closing is the failure of state legislatures to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act (ACA)," Mackey writes. "Twenty-two states, including North Carolina, have not expanded their Medicaid coverage for low-income residents using ACA funding."

Zellner said greed was another reason for the closures, Mackey writes. "The nonprofit corporation that owns the hospital in Belhaven had ample earnings overall and a reserve fund to support the facility, Zellner said." He told Mackey, “They’ve got plenty of money; they just wanted to make more money.” (Read more)

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