IMG_0831Last year Mayor Adam O’Neal from the tiny, scenic town of Belhaven, NC, made national headlines as he walked nearly 300 miles from Beaufort County to Washington, DC, to protest the closing of his rural hospital and to urge states to accept Medicaid expansion.

On Monday, June 1, O’Neal left Belhaven to replicate last year’s feat. And this year he is taking along advocates from around the country. As marchers filed out of town yesterday to start the arduous journey they wore shirts advertising their home states. A team of advocates travelled from Texas, some came from West Virginia and Alabama, a rural hospital CEO from Kentucky joined the walk, as did a woman from Seattle, Washington.

The message of the marchers is clear: we must save rural health care.

A key part of that agenda includes expanding Medicaid, as an Episcopal priest from Belhaven reminded the audience during a prayer before the send off. Rev. William Barber from the NC NAACP noted that Jesus made health care a central part of his ministry.

You can follow the march at this website. You can also tweet with the hashtag #savethe283. That refers to a national estimate that 283 rural hospitals are at risk of closing this year.

You can also join the final rally as marchers reach Washington, DC, and gather at the Capitol on June 15 at 10am.

And, finally, you can ask legislators and the Governor in North Carolina to accept new federal Medicaid funds to expand insurance coverage to 500,000 more people in our state.


Veteran Washington Post columnist Dana Millbank gets things just about right in this new essay about the stubborn refusal of the state’s conservative political leaders to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Millbank’s column was inspired by Belhaven mayor Adam O’Neal’s march to Washington that was designed to highlight the plight of his small town that lost its hospital thanks the state’s Medicaid decision:

O’Neal arrived on Capitol Hill carrying his hiking pole and wearing trail shoes, shorts and a “Save our Hospital” T-shirt. He was accompanied by about 250 supporters, most affiliated with labor unions, and by civil rights leaders. The hospital closure disproportionately affects African Americans. But Gibbs is white, and so is Crystal Price, who, with her young son, joined the mayor on the stage.

Price, 27 and an employee at Wendy’s, has no health coverage and spoke tearfully about her cervical cancer. “They don’t want to expand Medicaid, so families like mine .?.?. have to decide if we’re going to pay for our children’s health care or our own,” she said. “How many have to bury their loved ones, and how many children like my own will have to grow up without a parent because you want more money in your pockets?”

For O’Neal, any ideological doubts about Obamacare are dwarfed by the disgrace of a young working mother unable to get cancer treatment.

“I mean, that’s wrong,” he said. “Conservatives — everybody — should think that’s wrong.”

Read Millbank’s entire column by clicking here.


The mayor of a small coastal town with a recently-shuttered rural hospital began a nearly 300 mile walk to Washington, D.C. to call attention to his community’s lack of emergency medical care.

Belhaven Mayor Adam O'Neal  (Photo by Adam Linker)

Belhaven Mayor Adam O’Neal
(Photo by Adam Linker)

Adam O’Neal, the Republican mayor of Belhaven on North Carolina’s Inner Banks, began his walk after a brokered plan with Vidant Health to keep the Pungo District Hospital open fell apart last month. He’s expected to arrive in Washington in two weeks.

The nearest hospital and emergency care to the Beaufort County town is now in Greenville, nearly 50 miles and an hour’s drive away from Belhaven.

O’Neal has partnered with the N.C. NAACP to call for both Medicaid expansion and for the Belhaven hospital to stay open.

Vidant Health officials, when it initially announced its plan to close the hospital, said the N.C. legislature’s decision to not expand Medicaid meant the hospital wouldn’t be able to afford to stay open with a large segment of uninsured residents.

The Carolina Mercury posted this article today about O’Neal’s march, and included a letter from the mayor about the reasons behind the march.

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