Pam Renshaw had just crashed her four-wheeler into a bonfire in rural Folkston, Georgia, and her skin was getting seared in the flames. Her boyfriend, Billy Chavis, pulled her away and struggled to dial 911 before driving her to the nearest place he could think of for medical attention: an ambulance station more than 20 miles away.
The local public hospital, 9 miles from the crash, had closed six weeks earlier because of budget shortfalls resulting from Obamacare and Georgia’s decision not to expand Medicaid. The ambulances Chavis sought were taking other patients to the next closest hospital. It took two hours before Renshaw, in pain from second- and third-degree burns on almost half her body, was flown to a hospital in Florida.
At least five public hospitals closed this year and many more are scaling back services, mostly in states where Medicaid wasn’t expanded. Patients in areas with shuttered hospitals must travel as far as 40 miles (64 kilometers) to get care, causing delays that can result in lethal consequences, said Bruce Siegel, chief executive officer of America’s Essential Hospitals, a Washington-based advocacy group for facilities that treat large numbers of uninsured or low-income patients.
“Everyone in a community will be affected,” Siegel said. “We could see the end of life-saving services, and patients would bear the brunt.”