North Carolina NAACP and Republican Mayor Stand Together in Washington
D.C. to Save Small Town Hospital and Combat Rural Health Care Crisis Expanding Medicaid saves lives. When North Carolina lawmakers refused the Medicaid expansion, not only did they deny health care to 500,000 people, but they exacerbated a growing rural health care crisis that threatens the lives of thousands more, insured and uninsured alike.
The small town of Belhaven in eastern North Carolina lost its hospital on July 1, denying emergency care services to more than 23,000 people. Since the hospital shuttered its doors, a mother of two in Beaufort Co. has already died, and thousands must now travel as many as 84 miles to receive critical care. When Vidant Health first announced its decision to close the facility months ago, the hospital corporation pointed to the costs of providing care for uninsured and poor patients in the low-density service areas. Expanding Medicaid in North Carolina, the corporation noted, would have changed its calculus.
Belhaven refused to let its hospital go without a fight. Led by a conservative Republican mayor and the North Carolina NAACP, a multi-racial, bipartisan coalition formed to advocate for bringing the hospital back to community control. The NC NAACP filed a Title VI complaint against Vidant on the grounds that shuttering the emergency room would disproportionately harm African Americans and other minorities in the area, many of whom are uninsured.
After rallies and meetings, petitions and prayers, Vidant Health agreed to participate alongside the Town and the NC NAACP in an intensive mediation led by the U.S. Department of Justice. As a result, they signed a historic agreement to keep the hospital open and to transfer its management to a community board, which Belhaven would set up by July 1. But days before the deadline, Vidant Health used a third-party group to break the contract. The corporation locked the hospital’s doors shortly after midnight on July 1, leaving only a sign that read, “In case of emergency, call 911.”
Belhaven is not alone. Rural health care is in a crisis. Across the nation, more rural hospitals have closed in the last year than in the last 15 years combined, leaving people mired in medical deserts without access to emergency services.
This is why Belhaven’s mayor, Adam O’Neal, is marching 273 miles from Belhaven to Washington D.C. – to share his town’s story in hopes that state and federal political leaders will take immediate action to support rural hospitals. On July 28, Rev. Dr. William J. Barber will stand side by side with Mayor O’Neal at a Moral Monday rally and press conference, proving that partisanship has no place in the serious matter of promoting health care access for all.
Mayor O’Neal requests a meeting with the President to discuss how to support rural health systems. O’Neal and the NC NAACP advocate for expanding Medicaid access, embracing the Accountable Care Organizations program under the Affordable Care Act and preventing predatory hospital corporations from pursuing more lucrative, wealthier municipalities at the expense of America’s rural communities, many of which are home to large portions of poor, minority and disadvantaged populations.