Saturday, July 19, 2014

Rural hospitals

“You can't let rural hospitals close across the country. People die,”
Adam O'Neal, mayor of Belhaven, N.C

You may have heard about O'Neal's walk to D.C. to protest closings of rural hospitals. It's an important story in itself but it also hits on a major thread on class bigotry I've been meaning to start focusing on. One of the major components of that thread will be the tension between rural, urban and suburban.

I don't quote Charles P. Pierce often because we generally try to keep things nonpartisan here and that's very difficult with Pierce. That said, he has some solid insights on the question:
These hospitals do staggeringly good work coping with unique problems despite staggeringly limited resources. The rural poor exist largely off-stage in our politics because, for decades, people have found it convenient to put an "urban" face on American poverty, in large part because the people who found that convenient don't believe in any help for the poor except for imaginary Jesus bootstraps and they knew that the foundational racism in the country would help them sell their arguments better than they could. (That was why when LBJ, the old scoundrel, was trying to sell the country on Medicaid and the rest of the Great Society, most of the visuals were with him in Appalachia and in other places where the poor people were mainly white. He was smarter than the professional bigots. Always was. If he'd only known he was smarter than the generals, too. Oh, well...)

However, the rural poor, black and white, suffer all the health consequences of endemic poverty as do poor people everywhere. And, because so many of the rural poor live in states where taking the FREE MONEY! from the Kenyan Usurper is one step above selling the Statue of Liberty to Somali pirates, the problems are going to get worse, and not better, and Mayor O'Neal knows it.

Rural health advocates believe closures such as Pungo are likely to continue as the year drags on. "It's tragic obviously for the patients and the community," said Maggie Elehwany, vice president of government affairs and policy for NRHA. "And it's not the only story we're going to hear like this. That's the sad part."  By the end of Tuesday, O'Neal plans to be in Ahoskie, N.C., a town with another Vidant facility: Vidant Roanoke-Chowan Hospital. He is optimistic his town's hospital will eventually reopen, but he wants a quick turnaround. "When people start dying, I'm going to feel somewhat responsible in some way," O'Neal said. "And I can't let that happen."

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