Small-Town Mayor Begins 273-Mile Walk to Washington

Source: Washington Wire

A small-town Republican mayor set out Monday on a 273-mile walk to Washington, D.C., to draw attention to the plight of rural hospitals.

    Mayor Adam W. O’Neal     Nick Pironio for The Wall Street Journal

Mayor Adam W. O’Neal Nick Pironio for The Wall Street Journal


Mayor Adam O’Neal is fighting the recent closure of Pungo Vidant Hospital, the biggest employer in his coastal town of Belhaven, N.C. (pop.  1,700). The hospital’s situation was profiled in an article in The Wall Street Journal in May.

Mr. O’Neal is stopping at towns along the way to talk about the importance of expanding the Medicaid program in states like North Carolina. Under the Affordable Care Act, hospitals are losing government subsidies for providing care to the uninsured. The law envisioned that those who couldn’t afford insurance would be covered by an expansion of Medicaid, but two dozen states, including the Carolinas and many other Southeastern states, opted not to do so.

Mr. O’Neal said some people in his region are now 84 miles away from a hospital.

Vidant Health, a hospital network based in Greenville, N.C., has said it chose to close Pungo because of changes in Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement, but also because of other changes in patient behavior. Patients in small towns are often choosing to drive past their local hospital to get to a facility that offers specialty care, and that lost revenue has been hurting places like Pungo, Vidant said.

Mr. O’Neal said he hopes to meet with President Obama and members of Congress to encourage them to help reopen the hospital and help others.

The mayor began his 14-day walk Monday morning and was accompanied for a short while by a coterie of supporters, including the Rev. William Barber, head of the state NAACP.



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