WILLIAMSTON, N.C. (WNCT) — Gov. Roy Cooper made a visit to Martin County Tuesday, holding a roundtable discussion about Medicaid Expansion while also making a stop at the now-closed Martin General Hospital.

Cooper came to Eastern North Carolina and talked with leaders there about the closure of the hospital, which happened on Aug. 3. He also spoke about how not starting Medicaid Expansion was devastating for the state’s rural communities like Williamston.

Since the start of June, more than 18,000 people don’t have healthcare coverage.

Hospital discussion, job fair

People who used to work at Martin General Hospital had the chance to meet and speak with Cooper on Tuesday.

featured image
(Adrianna Hargrove, WNCT photo)

Many of those people say they have begun the job search from scratch, from filling out resumes to attending job fairs. All in all, they’re hoping to see a light at the end of the tunnel to all of this.

Tonya Bowen started working at the hospital when she was 19. She said this is all new to her.

“After 24 years of working at Martin General Hospital, one, I had to figure out I needed a resume. I haven’t done those in a right good while,” said Bowen, a former nurse and impatient director at the hospital.

Martin Community College is helping those who need to learn how to make a resume and to help meet their needs in finding their next job. It was all part of a job fair held at the Sen. Bob Martin Agricultural Center on Tuesday by UNC Nash.

Resume workshops will continue at MCC through Thursday.

“We have two who are in here today,” said Candance Whitehurst, Career Readiness Certificate Program coordinator at MCC. “We’re working with them to build resumes. We’re working with them to do applications, to make sure they do it the proper way. we’re also making sure they’re prepared for interviews.”

Harold Finn, the former director of Cardio-Pulminary and Sleep Services at Martin General, came to the job fair to help find his staff some jobs. He said he’s remaining positive for his staff.

“I think they’re really trying hard to find places for us,” Finn said. “In their system, I think there’s a lot of openings in their system. Nash has always been known as a very well-rounded institution.”

featured image
(Caitlin Richards, WNCT photo)

Cooper said the consequences of not having Medicaid Expansion only makes matters worse with the hospital now closed.

“The residents of Martin County have seen firsthand the devastating consequences of the failure to expand Medicaid in North Carolina and we need to do everything we can to help with the immediate consequences of the hospital closure,” said Cooper. “Republican leaders need to do their jobs, pass a budget and start Medicaid Expansion now to support our state’s rural communities, keep hospital doors open and draw federal money to fight the opioid crisis.”

featured image
(Caitlin Richards, WNCT photo)

Even though they don’t know what their future may look like, they still have faith in Martin General.

“My heart is at Martin General,” Bowen said. “I really think the community needs the services there. They need those doors to be back open.”

“Please, voice your concerns to our legislators, voice your concerns to our county commissioners even though they know it. Keep it open. Don’t stop asking for it because if we stop putting it out in the public, it’s gonna go away. we cannot afford to do that.”

— Adrianna Hargrove

Medicaid Expansion

Cooper held a roundtable discussion in Williamston to highlight the urgent need to start Medicaid Expansion that has already been agreed to in a strong bipartisan vote of the legislature. However, the state budget has not been passed, holding up the process.

Cooper was joined Tuesday by healthcare providers, members of law enforcement and local elected officials to discuss the impacts of the failure to expand Medicaid.

featured image
(Caitlin Richards, WNCT photo)

“As the Sheriff of Martin County, I fully support any legislation that would improve the quality of life and health of the citizens of not only Martin County, but North Carolina as well,” said Martin County Sheriff Tim Manning. “As a Tier 1 designated county, access to health care in Martin County is extremely limited and it is my hope that every citizen of this county has access to quality health care and mental health services.”

“It can be devastating not just to patients, but the entire community, when a hospital closes because it puts a strain on clinics, especially primary care, who are trying to fill the gap to care for the community,” said Dr. Jessica Triche. “To make both inpatient and outpatient care more economically viable and accessible, particularly in our rural areas, we need Medicaid Expansion now. Otherwise, we could lose other medical clinics or hospitals in the areas that need them the most.”

Cooper said in a statement that around 9,000 will lose coverage each month until Medicaid Expansion begins. The expansion includes a so-called signing bonus of $1.8 billion on top of the $521 million each month. He said that would benefit Martin General by providing an increased reimbursement rate and reducing the risk of financial troubles.

“It’s a tragedy, an absolute tragedy to not only have a hospital here that closed but the people who worked here,” Cooper said. “Probably many of the healthcare professionals work in the hospitals could have gotten a better job for more money somewhere else, but instead they stayed here.”

After speaking with people impacted by the hospital’s closure, he visited the hospital and addressed specific needs in the area.

— Caitlin Richards