Trumpcare would devastate families in rural Virginia

We can’t let that happen

Growing up in Onancock, Northampton-Accomack Memorial was our local hospital. It’s the place where folks had their babies, said goodbye to loved ones, and where my mother Nancy served as a nurse for 24 years. Before it was founded, something as simple as appendicitis would turn deadly fast because folks couldn’t access care. It opened in 1928 with 25 beds, but by the time my mother was working there in the 1970s, it was licensed for 143 beds. Today, it’s known as Riverside Shore Memorial Hospital and houses an emergency department, radiology and surgery departments, and even a long-term care facility.

Growing up in rural Virginia, my brother Tom and I were lucky to have good healthcare. Today, nearly half of rural kids rely on Medicaid.

Hospitals like this one are the lifeblood of these communities. Trumpcare would disproportionately affect them, devastating both the health and the economy of rural Virginia.

In 2015, nearly half of Virginia’s rural hospitals operated in the red — including Riverside Shore Memorial. Trumpcare’s cuts to Medicaid — and the increase in the number of uninsured Virginians relying on uncompensated care — would hammer rural hospitals and threaten a lot of them with closure.

These institutions heavily rely on Medicaid. Slashing it would take health coverage from our most vulnerable including about 45 percent of children from rural areas, people with disabilities, and seniors, not to mention folks who are too poor to afford coverage without the assistance of tax credits. It would also severely threaten the ability of rural hospitals to treat folks for opioid addiction, in the heart of the places suffering the most. The rate of death for opioid overdose is 45 percent higher in rural areas according to the National Rural Health Association.

But rural hospitals don’t just provide healthcare — they’re a major source of jobs too. In 2015, hospitals were the top employers in 88 percent of Virginia’s rural localities. Each one of those hospital jobs supports two jobs in the local economy. Without them, the entire community suffers: property values decrease; businesses close; people move, and fewer students enroll in local public schools. And that’s just the beginning. Kids growing up in communities with rural hospitals see firsthand the types of jobs a STEAM education can provide. You can’t be what you can’t see — and we need those kids to pursue the technology jobs of the future to build a strong Virginia economy.

Every year, I volunteer with Remote Area Medical mobile clinics to provide care to folks in rural Virginia. They do incredible work. But I’m the first to admit that treating people once a year at an annual clinic isn’t the ideal way to provide healthcare. We should be investing in long-term, permanent solutions to rural health. And that means investing more in rural hospitals — not slashing the little funding they have.

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