By: Peg O’Connell
I love the bumper sticker that says, “I was not born in North Carolina, but I got here as soon as I could.” That is my story. I was born in southeastern Ohio, but I came to Raleigh 31 years ago, along with half the other people in Ohio, Pennsylvania and the northeast. I love North Carolina and I will never leave.
Over my time here I have seen tremendous change in all parts of the state (I have actually been in all 100 counties). The growth in population in our cities has been amazing, but it comes at a cost to our rural communities and small towns. People are leaving many of our rural areas to move to the cities or suburbs for education and work opportunities. And sadly, many never go back to those small towns.
But rural North Carolina is a vast part of our geography and our economy and we can’t let this rural/urban divide create “two North Carolinas.” I am afraid, however, that is exactly what is happening to the healthcare system in our state. North Carolina’s failure to enact a solution to close the coverage gap is strangling healthcare and the economy in rural parts of our state.
Since 2011, seven rural hospitals have closed in North Carolina, and more are at risk of shutting their doors. Since the COVID-19 pandemic struck, the NC Healthcare Association estimates that rural hospitals are collectively losing $145 million per month. The pandemic has hit all parts of the healthcare system hard but the states that have already closed the coverage gap have seen a 62% decrease in likelihood of rural hospitals closing.
If North Carolina were to accept the federal funds to close the gap, the result would be over $11 billion in new health care funding to the state from 2020-22. Our legislators need to look again at this proven solution. Rural North Carolina can’t afford to lose any more employers, or health care providers, especially now when we need them most.
North Carolina’s failure to come up with a solution to close the coverage gap is putting all parts of our state at risk, but especially our rural areas. What are we waiting for?