BAMBERG -- With the old Bamberg County Memorial Hospital serving as a backdrop, civil rights activist the Rev. Jesse Jackson blamed Gov. Nikki Haley for failing to keep the facility open.
"She had access to healthcare. She was born here," Jackson said Thursday during a press conference held on the hospital's grounds.
"It is wholly unreasonable for this hospital to be closed and money available to open it again. It is denying the most vulnerable people access to healthcare,” he said.
Jackson blamed Haley, a Bamberg native, because South Carolina hasn’t accepted more Medicaid funding available through the Affordable Care Act.
He described the refusal to expand Medicaid as a “moral disgrace.”
Jackson noted the hospital was the only one in the county and now residents must travel miles for services.
"There is a moral imperative to defend the poor and take care of the sick," he said. "That is why this is such a big priority and another reason why this hospital should be reopened.
“It can be if they accept the money. The state is turning away billions of dollars."
President Barack Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act into law in March 2010. The Supreme Court upheld the law in June 2012.
The law left it up to the individual states to decide whether to opt into an expansion of the Medicaid program.
For the first three years, the federal government would provide all the money for the expansion with no required state match. The state would have to begin matching the federal dollars after the first three years at about 10 percent.
From 2017 to 2020, the state would be responsible for $442 million with the federal government contributing $11.24 billion, according to a University of South Carolina study on the matter.
Haley opposed the expansion, saying the Medicaid program needs to be tweaked and made more efficient rather than expanded.
While Haley’s office did not immediately respond to Jackson’s statement, on Friday Haley press secretary Chaney Adams said, "While we respect Rev. Jesse Jackson and his position, we disagree with it and will continue to do what we have done for the last five years: focus on real, South Carolina health solutions for our people."
The financial challenges for the hospital go back years.
The hospital was running a financial loss back in 2006. In 2008, some Bamberg County Council members blamed its financial struggles on bad management.
The hospital filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection in June 2011 to reorganize its debts.
Its April 2012 closure was blamed on a decline in hospital usage rates and the consolidation of the healthcare industry, with larger hospitals buying up physician practices. Following the closure of the hospital, the Regional Medical Center opened up an urgent care center in Bamberg.
Rural hospitals have also struggled due to the fact they serve uninsured and under-insured individuals, increasing healthcare costs and reducing the reimbursements they get.
Jackson said he does not buy the argument that the state should not accept federal dollars.
"It does not stand to reason except for some political reason to deny access to medical care,” he said.
He said the Bamberg County hospital is a “symbolic” spot for Haley, and jokingly suggested a statue of the governor be erected at the hospital where she was born.
* This story has been changed from its original version.
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