On Tuesday, Mayor Adam O’Neal of Belhaven, North Carolina stopped in Richmond to speak with the governor of Virginia. He also addressed a small crowd of pro-Medicaid expansion activists at the Virginia State Capitol about the devastation Belhaven is facing now that it has lost its hospital to a private healthcare conglomerate known as Vidant Health. He walked over 200 miles from Belhaven to Richmond, and plans on walking all the way to Washington DC to raise awareness about his community’s situation and hopefully speak with the president.
Belhaven is a town in Beaufort County, NC. It’s a rural town with around 1,688 residents. Its hospital, Vidant Pungo Hospital, was closed earlier this month. Officials estimate the closing will cause Belhaven to lose $17.5 million annually. It was also the town’s biggest employer. Now that the Belhaven hospital is closed, many locals have to travel nearly 80 miles away to get emergency care. According to O’Neal, this has already resulted in death.
Earlier this month it was reported that Portia Gibbs, age 48, of Hyde County died from a heart attack caused by a diabetic episode. With Vidant Pungo Hospital in Belhaven closed, she had to be flown 75 miles away to the nearest hospital. She didn’t survive. Many feel that she would still be alive if Belhaven’s hospital, which was closer to Gibbs’ home, was still in operation.
“When a [rural] hospital closes, that means people have to go farther to get emergency care,” O’Neal told sympathizers in Richmond. “Which means people die that wouldn’t have died before.”
Vidant did not talk to anyone in the community before announcing plans to close down Vidant Pungo Hospital. O’Neal tried to get the company’s leaders to sit down and speak with him about their decision, but they refused. It was only after 300 townspeople took to the streets in protest that they acknowledge Mayor O’Neal.
The hospital was originally run by a community board, but there were some issues with administering it. So the town approached Vidant Health to run their hospital. Vidant originally had an agreement with the town to transfer the hospital back over to town control, but they weaseled out of their responsibility and closed the hospital against the wishes of the people and town government. The hospital had around a million dollars in assets when Vidant took control, but the hospital lost $1.2 million due to Vidant’s poor management. Instead of fixing the problem, Vidant pushed to close it because it would be more profitable to shutter a potential competitor and give everyone no choice but to go to another Vidant-run hospital over a half an hour away in Washington, NC.
“[Vidant] made $127 million in 2012, and they made $109 million in 2013,” O’Neal told supporters in Richmond. “They have $550 billion of reserves.”
Mayor O’Neal was making the point that Vidant had the money to keep the hospital in Belhaven running.
“Now everyone in our area has an extra 30 percent chance of dying,” O’Neal said, citing a study.
Some theorize that Vidant wanted to close the hospital in Belhaven and send everyone further away to Washington right from the beginning. More rural hospitals have closed this year than in the past 15 years. One of the reasons is because healthcare conglomerates like Vidant are buying rural hospitals, closing them, and making everyone in vast geographic areas go to one hospital that isn’t very accessible.
This is the true face of capitalism. People die and families suffer so that the rich can get richer. It’s all part of a business plan. Under true socialism, communities and healthcare workers will have democratic control over their town’s medical facilities, and access to healthcare will be free.
You can watch his speech here: