Reporter Jonathan Rowe's take on Mayor Adam O'Neal's decision to walk 273 miles to Washington DC in the name of accessible emergency healthcare for his town and his region.
BELHAVEN — Belhaven Mayor Adam O’Neal announced he will walk to Washington, D.C., continuing his fight to save Pungo District Hospital.
O’Neal announced his plan to fight back against the closing of the hospital at Monday’s Beaufort County Commissioners meeting. Vidant Health closed the hospital on July 1 despite federal mediation between Vidant, the NC NAACP and the town. The mediation by the U.S. Department of Justice was in the effort to transfer the hospital from Vidant to the town.
At the meeting, O’Neal and Poole and Associates representative Dr. Norris Gunby, who is also an associate professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, went before the commissioners and presented what they say is a feasible plan to reopen and operate the hospital. Poole and Associates is a consulting team aiding the NC NAACP and the Town of Belhaven in coming up with a plan to run the hospital. In response, the commissioners allocated $25,000 to aid in the fight, O’Neal said.
“Belhaven’s battle to hold onto emergency healthcare is shaping up to be a do-or-die challenge for rural America,” O’Neal said. “When it’s do-or-die, it’s no time to sit still. That’s why I’m walking.”
O’Neal said he plans to start his two-week journey from the hospital Monday morning at 9 a.m. and will walk almost 300 miles through Virginia to the nation’s capital. He hopes to meet with United States Attorney General Eric Holder and President Barack Obama and have the United States Department of Justice step in and investigate the closing of the hospital. Currently, he has received no verification that he will, in fact, be able to meet with them, O’Neal said.
“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. “Any time a critical access hospital closes, it should have signatures from the Health and Human Services director to allow it.
“Her death has shaken up the people of my town and my region. Many of our neighbors in Hyde County live 84 miles away from the nearest hospital. Everyone is looking at each other, saying ‘Who will be next?’” READ MORE