If all goes according to plan, Belhaven, N.C. Mayor Adam O’Neal and a weary band of walkers from 14 states are expected to arrive at a rally on the east grounds of the U.S. Capitol today at 11 a.m. EST.
Civil rights activists Bob Zellner and Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary, along with other rural health advocates, including National Rural Health Association (NRHA) representatives, will lead the rally at the conclusion of the walk, which began June 1 in rural Belhaven, where a critical access hospital closed last year.
Together, they’ll make an empassioned plea to Congress to protect rural hospitals and patients.
The walk – measuring 283 miles, with each mile representing one rural hospital currently in danger of closing – is just part of a larger bipartisan grassroots movement to petition Congress, state legislatures, and governors to pass measures to ensure the sustainability of rural hospitals in America.
According to the NRHA, more rural hospitals were closed in 2013 (53 in all) than in the previous 10 years combined. NRHA also said in a news release that if Congress doesn’t act now to prevent further closures, rural hospitals will be forced to lay off workers, cut wages, reduce services, and close their doors. Lives will be lost, and local economies will suffer. The NRHA has said that the 283 hospitals currently at risk currently provide access to healthcare for more than 700,000 patients.
“The National Rural Health Association has led the fight to stop rural hospital closures across the nation,” said Alan Morgan, CEO of the nonprofit organization. “We’re calling on Congress to pass comprehensive legislation to save rural hospitals and patients, and to provide a pathway to the future for rural health.”
Last year, O’Neal made the same walk – at that time to protest the death of 48-year-old Portia Gibbs. According to the organization’s news release, Gibbs 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.
"People are dying, and if you have 283 hospitals close you are going to have something equivalent to 9/11 happening every year to our children, our parents, and friends all over this country – and it is completely and totally unacceptable, " O’Neal said.
Scheduled to appear at the 11 a.m. rally that will be held at the House East Front Grassy Area 10 (bounded by the South Mezzanine sidewalk) are the following:
- Adam O’Neal, Belhaven, N.C. Mayor
- Bob Zellner, civil rights activist
- Grace Chimene, pediatric nurse practitioner in Texas
- Maggie Elehwany, National Rural Health Association
- Randi Weingarten, American Federation of Teache
- Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, president of the North Carolina NAACP
- Special Appearance by Peter Yarrow (Peter, Paul & Mary)
Mayor O’Neal will be interviewed as he walks along the National Mall en route to the rally by Chuck Buck during the Monitor Mondays live Internet broadcast today at 10 a.m. EST. Register to listen.