Belhaven Mayor Adam O’Neal began his walk towards Washington, D.C. for the second straight summer on Monday. This time around, he was joined with representatives from across the country walking to raise awareness about the crisis facing rural hospitals.
Currently, there are around 283 rural hospitals facing closures nationwide.
O’Neal said he never expected to do another walk after the one he took last summer to D.C., but he said this was necessary.
“I think that this 283 hospital issue is something that the American people don’t know about,” said O’Neal. “So I think that when the American people know there are 283 hospitals looking at closing, in a year we are giving away $27.2 billion dollars to other countries, I think that the American people are going to want to get into this and start having a national debate about this.”
He said this year’s walk was especially important because it showed the problems facing Belhaven, after the closure of Pungo Hospital, are being faced by communities across the country.
“Belhaven has become ground zero for rural hospitals,” he said. “We didn’t sign up for it, it kind of just came to us.”
One of those walking was Laura Guerra-Cardus from Texas.
“I get emails and calls all the time about real people suffering across Texas,” said Guerra-Cardus.
She said she wouldn’t have missed the walk for anything.
“This is important enough to take two weeks off of your job for many folks, and make this walk for the people that have passed, and those that are still suffering,” she said.
The word of the walk also spread thousands of miles away. Komalpreet Sahota was walking representing the state of Washington.
“The fact that 283 rural hospitals are set to close that have people who need these hospitals, was just ridiculous to me,” Sahota said.
North Carolina NAACP President Rev. William Barber said failure to expand Medicaid is a contributing factor in many communities facing rural hospital closures.
“The whole reason Medicaid was expanded was to primarily for rural areas and for poor areas, and it makes no sense,” Barber said.
O’Neal is hopeful with the support of people from across the country, action can be taken.
They are expected to arrive in D.C. on June 15 for a rally. O’Neal said he plans to meet with national lawmakers, and is hopeful to meet with President Obama.