Small Town Mayor Leads 283-Mile Walk from North Carolina to D.C. June 1-15 to Protest Potential Closing of 283 Rural Hospitals
Conservative Mayor, a Famed Civil Rights Activist & Participants from 11 States Will Walk One Mile for Every Hospital in Jeopardy…
Will Petition Congress from Capitol’s Steps to Act on Rural Healthcare Crisis
BELHAVEN, N.C. (May 28, 2015) – By the end of this year, 283 of America’s rural hospitals will face the greatest challenge to their existence – the very real possibly of closing down.
To draw attention to a life or death situation for some 62 million Americans who rely on rural healthcare, The Walk will begin in Belhaven, North Carolina on June 1 and conclude on the steps of the U.S. Capitol on June 15.
The Walk will be led by a most unlikely pair, conservative GOP Mayor Adam O’Neal of Belhaven and Civil Rights legend Bob Zellner, whose purpose is to keep hope alive in the rural town of Belhaven (pop. 1,687) and other small towns across the nation, as well as to encourage Congress to enact legislation to sustain rural hospitals.
On June 1 at 9am EDT, O’Neal, Zellner and supporters representing 11 states will leave Belhaven for a two-week, 283-mile walk to D.C., one mile for every hospital that may be closed, letting people know along the way that possible closures will leave millions in a dangerous and vulnerable position.
Indeed, Belhaven is Ground Zero for the present-day crisis. It was the first rural town in the U.S. to get a hospital under President Truman’s 1947 Hill-Burton Act that established community rural hospitals, and ironically, Belhaven was the first Hill-Burton critical access hospital closed in July 2014.
“All Americans must be made aware of the dire rural health care crisis we face in this country,” said Mayor O’Neal. “Our rural hospitals are just as important as any urban medical center. When hospitals close, emergency rooms close and that means needless deaths -- our children, family members, veterans, and neighbors. We have to stand up for ourselves and The Walk will get Washington’s and the nation's attention,” said O’Neal.
During The Walk, participants will stay in Plymouth, and Ahoskie in N.C., and Courtland, Petersburg, Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Arlington in Virginia, before arriving at the Capitol in Washington, D.C. on June 15. Participants will host rallies with the community, as well as meet with local and state officials along the route.
To date, supporters from N.C., S.C., Tx., Ala., Wash., Va., Tenn., Fl., N.Y., Ga., and Calif. will join O’Neal and Zellner with representatives from some 40 states expected at the Capitol on June 1. Also, joining The Walk at the Capitol will be elected officials and prominent dignitaries.
“This is a bipartisan grassroots movement with a single purpose,” added O’Neal. “Imagine having to drive 80 miles to get to an emergency room on a country road? Or, wasting precious time for an ambulance or helicopter? Sadly, we’ve seen multiple, preventable deaths occur for these very reasons.”
Since its hospital closed in 2014, Belhaven has witnessed several deaths that many say could have been prevented had the hospital remained open. Today, the nearest hospital is 30 miles away. In the neighboring county, where none exists, residents must travel some 80 miles for emergency care.
Belhaven is not alone. In a rural East Texas town, an 18-month old died from choking on a grape. The baby was rushed to the nearby hospital, the only one in the entire county, but it was closed and locked. The next nearest hospital was some 21 miles away, but it was too late.
The possibility of a rural hospital closure is more than a health issue. The National Rural Health Association projects in a 2015 study that 36,000 jobs will be lost if the 283 hospitals are closed. Also, rural communities will lose an estimated $10.6 billion in lost GDP if the hospitals are shuttered.
According to a recent Associated Press report, 50 rural hospitals have closed since 2010, with the pace accelerating. iVantage Health Analytics, a firm that works with hospitals, reports that the 283 rural hospitals vulnerable to shutting down are located in 39 states, and that 35 percent of them are operating at a loss. To date, most of the closures have occurred in the South and Midwest. In fact, nearly 70 percent of those at risk are in states that have declined to expand Medicaid coverage under the federal Affordable Care Act, but some experts are not drawing a cause-and-effect correlation, the AP reported.
Adds O’Neal, “We are going backwards with healthcare in America. Hospitals are not like hardware stores; we can’t simply close them and not expect people to be affected. The Walk must start a national debate about the condition of rural hospitals today. This is an American issue, regardless of party or politics. If 283 hospitals close and there are 10 preventable deaths, due to no emergency care services that will almost equal the number of lives lost on 9/11 every year, and every year thereafter. We must demonstrate to lawmakers in D.C. how we the people can cross party lines to work on this vital issue.”
The Walk began on July 14, 2014 (to the 28th) when Zellner and O’Neal walked 273 miles to D.C. as the result of the death of 48-year-old Portia Gibbs. She had suffered a heart attack and died after waiting - one-hour, in the back of ambulance, in a high school parking lot - for a medical helicopter to arrive. She could have been at Belhaven hospital in less than 30 minutes, had it not closed just six days earlier. For details on The Walk, visit: http://thewalknctodc.com
# # #
(WASHINGTON DC) — On Monday "Walking Mayor" Adam O'Neal (R) will complete his 273-mile march from his home town of Belhaven, NC to the U.S. Capitol Building in the name of Medicaid expansion, endangered rural hospitals, and the Pungo District Hospital, which closed on July 1 endangering over 20K people in his community.
Vidant Health, Inc., which had built a near monopoly in eastern North Carolina, pulling in over $100 million a year with $550 million in the bank, purchased and closed Belhaven’s Pungo District Hospital as part of a regional business model that involves transporting Medicare patients to their profit center in Greenville, NC, while avoiding the costs of operating hospitals with emergency rooms. O’Neal calls this business model immoral, and points out in the United States, more rural hospitals have closed in the past 2 years than in the previous 15.
SaveOurHospital.org has posted a detailed map for July 28, 2014, the final morning of the 15-day journey. The 3.8 mile walk will begin at Gravelly Point Park in Arlington, VA, just north of Reagan National Airport at 7:30 AM, and arrive at the U.S. Capitol at 11:10 AM where a rally and press conference begins at 11:30.
Rev. Dr. William Barber, leader of the Moral Monday movement in North Carolina, gave the blessing prior to the start of the Mayor’s march, and he will be there to greet him when he arrives. Rev. Barber and Mayor O’Neal, who joined forces to fight the hospital closing last December, will be the featured speakers at the 11:30 am Moral Monday rally.
Two busses filled with supporters will have left Belhaven, NC at midnight and arrived at dawn. Many will embark with the Mayor at 7:30, and others including Rep. will join him along the route, which takes them across the 14th Street Bridge to the Jefferson Memorial (8:10 AM), the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial (8:40 AM), the Lincoln Memorial (9.05 AM), the Washington Monument (9:45 AM), the Grant Memorial on the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol (10:45 AM), and finally Upper Senate Park (on the eastern, Supreme Court side of the Capitol Building) for the rally at 11:10 AM.
273 miles/90+ hours/14 days
July 14-July 28
Starts at 9am in front of Pungo Hospital in Belhaven, NC on July 14
Ends in front of the US Capitol in Washington, DC at 11:30 on July 28
On Monday, July 14th, Adam O'Neal, the Republican Mayor of Belhaven, NC, will begin a 14-day, 273-mile walk to the White House where he will ask Congress and President Obama for help with a healthcare crisis that has already caused loss of life, and threatened the well being of thousands in his rural community.
When Vidant Health, Inc. purchased and announced the closure of Vidant Pungo Hospital, Mayor O’Neal emerged as a fiery advocate for the hospital, and the 20,000 people who depend on it. O’Neal is walking to push for the re-opening of Belhaven’s hospital, which he believes was closed illegally on July 1, 2014. Thousands in his region must now travel as many as 84 miles to receive critical care.
The mayor will carry with him the story Portia Gibbs, 48, the first person to die for lack of emergency care since the hospital’s closing. Her husband and her children will be there on Monday at 9 a.m. to see the mayor off.
Moral Monday leader and President of NC NAACP, Rev. Dr. William Barber, will say a prayer to bless the mayor’s journey, and join him for the ceremonial first leg on Monday in Belhaven, and on Tuesday in Plymouth, NC — Barber’s home town.
O'Neal will make stops in towns and cities to carry his message to the people on his route and across the nation, especially in rural areas, who are affected by failing healthcare systems. Expanding Medicaid, and embracing a program in the Affordable Care Act called Accountable Care Organizations are two ways to prevent this deadly trend.
Adam's Scheduled Stops from Belhaven to Washington, DC
(schedule may change so follow @mayoroneal on Twitter or check here for updates)
Belhaven, NC (July 14 - kickoff at 9am in front of Pungo Hospital)
Plymouth, NC (July 15 - meeting up with Rev. William Barber around noon)
Ahoskie, NC (July 16)
Murfreesboro (July 18)
Yale, VA (July 19)
Petersburg, VA (July 21 - Noon lunch at Croaker's Spot with supporters & press)
Richmond, VA (July 22 - 2pm rally at the Capitol at the Bell Tower)
Ashland, VA (July 23)
Fredericksburg, VA (July 25)
Woodbridge, VA (July 26) - Rally at 6pm at Greater Prince William Community Health Center
Alexandria, VA (July 27) - 5pm - Mayor Alexandria welcome "Walking Mayor
Washington, DC (July 28 - 11:30am Rally at the US Capitol at Upper Senate Park
For more information on organizing events: Annabel Park (252) 945-3340 / firstname.lastname@example.org
Incredible leadership on your part, Mayor. Go get ’em.
Margaret Cutler Walton