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Saving Rural Hospitals: 'She Died in a Parking Lot'

07-01-2015
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Sometimes the time it takes to get to the emergency room means the difference between life and death. That's why people in rural areas are worried about losing their hospitals.

North Carolina resident Portia Gibbs died while waiting to be airlifted to a big-city hospital 80 miles away. Just six days earlier, her nearby hospital in Belhaven, North Carolina, closed.

Belhaven Mayor Adam O'Neal held a rally in his home town to raise awareness about the closing of rural hospitals. He used Gibbs' death as an illustration of why keeping them open is so important.

"Forty-eight-year-old mother of two who spent the last hour of her life in the back of an ambulance in a high school parking lot," told the crowd.

The rally kicked-off a walk to save rural hospitals all the way from Belhaven to Washington, D.C. It's a 283-mile walk, one mile for every rural hospital that may be closed by the end of this year, leaving millions of people who live in rural areas more vulnerable than ever before.

The small but determined band of walkers from 11 states battled weather, traffic, and insects to try to save the rural hospitals that are in danger of closing.

Adam Barnes, from Colorado, was among the walkers.

"You know, as a Christian and as someone that believes in a God that loves life and loves justice, this is a fundamental, core issue," he said.

There are a number of reasons more rural hospitals are losing money, such as increased operating costs and declining reimbursements. Mayor O'Neal called on people of faith to take action.

"Everybody in this country needs to be praying for these rural hospitals because if these rural hospitals close there's going to be an incredible death toll," he warned.

"If you take just 10 needless deaths per these 283 hospitals, that's equivalent to a 9-11 happening every year," he said.

The closure of rural hospitals isn't just a healthcare crisis; it's also an economic one for small towns that are already feeling the pinch.

According to iVantage Health Analytics, the 283 hospitals represent 700,000 patient encounters, and their closure would result in the loss of 36,000 healthcare jobs, 50,000 community jobs, and a $10.6 billion loss to the gross domestic product.

After two weeks of trekking, the walk for rural hospitals concluded with a rally on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, where Mayor O'Neal made a plea for voters to contact their elected representatives.

"I think all of us need to reach out to our congressmen and our senators and let them know that rural hospitals closing it's not a good idea and needs to be stopped," he said.

Supporters are working with lawmakers on a bill called "Save Our Rural Hospitals."

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