Greenville, N.C. – Members of the U.S. House Committee on Ways and Means visited Beaufort and Pitt counties Monday, Oct. 16, 2023, to engage with the community, tour ECU Health Beaufort Hospital and ECU Health Medical Center, hear from community care leaders and discuss the challenges facing rural health care in America. The committee visit consisted of Rep. Greg Murphy, Chairman Jason Smith, and Reps. Adrian Smith, Kevin Hern, and Claudia Tenney.
“Whether it’s in my home state of Missouri or eastern North Carolina, rural communities are facing a health care crisis,” Chairman Smith said. “Today we heard from health care providers and local leaders about the struggles their communities face ranging from patients traveling long distances to receive emergency care to health facilities finding and keeping a quality health care workforce with the scarce resources available. On our current path, access to health care for a huge portion of America will continue to erode, putting the health of millions more rural Americans at risk. The Ways and Means Committee will take what we learned today from patients and doctors on the frontlines of this crisis and use it to inform the best way to expand access to health care in rural communities.”
Committee members and county leaders started the day by visiting Belhaven before touring ECU Health Beaufort Hospital, built in 1957 under the Hill-Burton Act that provided federal funding to support rural hospitals. There, committee members joined a roundtable conversation with ECU Health leaders and Beaufort County community leaders about the importance of finding collaborative solutions to the complex rural health care challenge.
The day concluded with committee members visiting ECU Health Medical Center in Greenville, a state-of-the-art academic facility that delivers high-level care to residents of eastern North Carolina. ECU Health Medical Center is the only Level I trauma center east of Raleigh, showcasing ECU Health’s unique system of care that serves as a national model for providing high-quality rural health care.
“Chairman Smith has been gracious enough to organize field hearings in the country this year on various issues,” said Rep. Murphy. “I am glad to have him and other members of the Ways and Means Committee spend time in eastern North Carolina to look at rural health care. We had the opportunity to witness firsthand the efforts of clinicians striving for quality in medicine while ensuring access to care for all.”
Throughout the tours, lawmakers walked through the emergency departments, intensive care units and labor and delivery units and engaged in conversations with clinicians regarding the challenges faced by rural health care, the aging infrastructure and the difficulties associated with sustaining essential services. Leaders discussed the importance of preserving services such as labor and delivery units within ECU Health, which are a lifeline for expectant mothers, providing essential access to safe and skilled maternity care, often in regions where other health care options are limited. Maintaining units like these ensures that rural families do not have to endure the significant burden of traveling long distances to access critical services.
“ECU Health has long advocated for solutions at the state and national level to combat the intensifying rural health care crisis facing America,” said Dr. Michael Waldrum, ECU Health CEO and dean of the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University. “We are pleased legislators not only recognize the need to explore solutions to maintain rural health care, but also recognize ECU Health as a leading voice on this important topic. The visit to Beaufort County and Greenville gave us an opportunity to show our mission in action, and we are deeply appreciative of the committee for spending time with us discussing rural health care.”