BELHAVEN, N.C. -A local mayor, fighting for rural healthcare and a closed hospital, finished his walk to the nation's capital.
Belhaven mayor Adam O'Neal walked 273 miles from Belhaven to Washington D.C. to raise awareness of how the desire for profit is costing rural healthcare centers and the services they provide.
He's criticizing both hospital officials, who he says put money over health, and state leaders, who refused federal funding to expand Medicaid.
9 On Your Side has followed O'Neal since he left from what was Vidant Pungo Hospital two weeks ago.
NAACP leaders and the "Forward Together Movement" joined him Monday for a rally outside the U.S. Capitol building.
9 On Your Side's Josh Birch walked with Mayor O'Neal as he took his final steps to the Capitol.
You would think that after walking more than 250 miles, Mayor O'Neal would be exhausted today, but he was energized by the support around him and bringing the problems in eastern Carolina to the attention of some of the nation’s top lawmakers.
More than 100 people packed two buses at midnight Sunday night to make the long trip to Washington, D.C. from Belhaven.
Among those who made the trip was Carol Montgomery. She said if the mayor could walk several hundred miles to the nation’s capital, the least they could do was join him and walk the last stretch of the journey together.
"I think sometimes the odds may be against us, but I have to feel that we have done all we possibly could to keep our hospital," said Carol Montgomery, who traveled from Belhaven for the rally.
After the rally, 9 On Your Side spoke with Mayor O'Neal one on one. He said while the journey has been long and difficult, he's still hopeful the government will step in to help reopen the hospital.
"We're willing to do whatever we have to do to get our hospital back open,” said Adam O'Neal, Belhaven Mayor. “So Vidant Health needs to start thinking about what they're doing, and they need to get up here and do the right thing and open the hospital back up. And if they don't, we're going to keep on working on."
O'Neal says he plans to meet with state representatives and senators in Washington, as well as Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell, to raise awareness about what has taken place in Belhaven.
9 On Your Side also asked Mayor O'Neal what he was most looking forward to on the days and weeks to come. He said he's just glad he doesn't have to walk 20 miles a day anymore.
On Sunday, Mayor O'Neal made a stop on his lest leg of his walk in Alexandria, Va. There he met with the city's mayor, leading politicians and community members who honored him on his efforts to save Vidant Pungo Hospital, and other hospital's like it.
Saturday, Mayor O'Neal made a stop in Woodbridge, Va. today as a part of his 273 mile walk to the nation's capital.
Mayor O'Neal met with community members in Woodbridge at the Greater Prince William Community Center Saturday and held a rally in an effort to save Vidant Pungo Hospital.
Friday, Mayor O'Neal stopped in Fredericksburg, Virginia as part of his 273 mile walk to the nation's capital and stopped by the Virginia governor's mansion in Richmond on Tuesday, tweeting a picture from inside the governor's mansion.
Mayor O'Neal has been walking to D.C. in hopes of galvanizing support for the reopening of Vidant Pungo Hospital.
Belhaven mayor Adam O' Neal continues on his long walk to Washington D.C. in hopes of saving Vidant Pungo Hospital.
The hospital closed July 1st, leaving residents of Hyde and eastern Beaufort counties without a hospital or emergency room.
O'Neal made his first stop in Plymouth Tuesday. In total, O'Neal will make 9 stops on the 273 mile journey to the nation's capital.
He says his decision to make the walk is an illustration of how serious this problem is."The purpose of the walk would be to talk about what happened to us,” said Mayor Adam O’Neal. “What Vidant did to Belhaven and the bad faith they dealt in. It’ll also be about critical access hospitals."
Mayor O' Neal says this walk isn't just about Vidant Pungo Hospital, but about the closure of rural hospitals across the United States.
"We have hospitals closing up at an alarming rate. More rural hospitals have been closed in the last year than in the previous 15 years. That is a trend that's got to be stopped," said O’Neal.
According to The National Rural Health Association, 15 rural hospitals closed in 2013. The non-profit organization says this year seven more rural hospitals shut their doors. NRHA anticipates three more hospitals will close in the coming months.