22,000 North Carolina Residents Fearful as the Only Hospital in Town Is Unexpectedly Shut Down

By: Ben Campbell | Published: May 25, 2024

Thousands of residents living in the small town of Williamston, North Carolina, are left with a growing sense of anxiety after their local hospital closed its doors for good. 

Martin General Hospital suspended its operations nearly one year ago and was later forced to file for bankruptcy as the region’s declining population was venturing elsewhere for their medical needs. 

The Town of Williamston

The rural town of Williamston in eastern North Carolina was the home of Martin County General Hospital, which once provided reliable healthcare to around 22,000 people. 

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A photograph of Williamston Town in North Carolina

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However, in August 2023, the hospital closed its doors for good after a challenging financial period. Since 2016, Quorum Health, the hospital’s operator, has reported losses of around $30 million.

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Residents Are Now Worried

The hospital has since been closed for a year, and weeds now cover the one busy car park of the 43-bed hospital. In the time since the sudden closure, residents have continually expressed concern for their own well-being and that of others in the community. 

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According to lifelong Williamston resident Linda Gibson, the closure of the hospital has cost people their lives. “I know we all have to die, but it seems like since the hospital closed, there’s a lot more people dying,” she said

Long Drive to the Hospital

What was once a short trip to the nearest hospital for residents of Williamston is now a drive that could take at least 25 minutes in an ambulance should they find themselves in the unfortunate situation. 

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A photograph of two paramedics in the front of an ambulance

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Many residents of the small town are left wondering whether they would survive the long drive if they were seriously injured in a car crash. 

Local Community Loses Faith in Leader

When Quorum Health closed its doors last year, citing “financial challenges related to declining population and utilization trends,” residents not only lost a sense of security but also faith in their local politicians. 

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A small group of protestors gathered in the middle of a city

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Many feel overlooked by their leaders, who they claim should have done more to keep the county hospital open. Most blame the Martin County Board of Commissioners for the hospital’s closure. 

Meeting Behind Closed Doors

Quorum Health’s initial lease with Martin County didn’t expire until 2029. When they offered to revert the hospital to the county, commissioners organized a meeting to discuss taking on the Quorum lease. 

Several people are pictured attending a small meeting

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The hospital news release said the county “chose not to respond to our proposal,” ultimately leading to the suspension of operations.

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Closure Is Devastating for the Citizens

Speaking shortly after the announcement of the hospital’s closure, Country Commissioner Joe Ayers said he and his colleagues were in the process of working out a way to keep the hospital open for the foreseeable future. 

A closed sign hangs at the entrance of a building

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The closing is “devastating for citizens and the hospital employees. I’m disappointed in Quorum that they shut an important facility down on short notice,” Ayers said.

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Resident Takes Aim at Commissioners

In April, another resident of Williamston, Verna Perry, took aim at the commissioners during a meeting. Perry claimed it took her sister nearly 30 minutes to drive to the closest hospital. However, upon arriving, her sister was told the treatment she needed was not available there. 

Several reports are pictured on the street as they interview a person

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“Do you really care, commissioners?” Perry asked. “If you cared, you would do something to get us a hospital here.”

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Hospital Remains Abandoned

However, it appears Ayers and the county commissioners failed in their attempts as the hospital doors remain locked and a blue tarp continues to hang low over the health center sign. 

A photograph of an empty hallway in a hospital

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As things stand, most residents of Williamston and the surrounding region travel around 20 miles to the next available hospital in Washington. However, local clinics in the region have remained open. 

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No One Cares About the Problem, Says Older Resident

Bobby Woolard, a 73-year-old resident of Williamston, says he does not believe any politicians, ranging from local commissioners to presidential candidates, care enough to help fix the current problem. 

A photograph of an older woman alone in her bedroom

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“If you’re critically ill, there’s no help for you here,” he said. “Nobody seems to care. You got a building sitting there empty and nobody seems to care.”

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Former Martin General Hospital Patient Shares Struggles

Following the closure of the hospital, former patient Kaitlyn Paxton admits it has been challenging to find primary care doctors and the specialists she requires for her condition.

A woman is pictured beside her doctor during a check-up

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“As far as everyday doctors and appointments, from my personal experience, it has been a nightmare trying to find someone,” she said.

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Hope for the Future

The hospital and the land are still owned by the county, which is engaged in talks with state officials and federal Health and Human Services agency representatives to explore options for reopening the hospital. 

A photograph of several hospital beds within a healthcare center

Source: Freepik

One suggestion could see the Williamston-based hospital turn into a Rural Emergency Hospital, according to interim County Manager Ben Eisner. 

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