Not living in an urban area shouldn’t jeopardize your healthcare, yet in NC it does

·4 min read
Robert Willett/rwillett@newsobserver.com

Welcome to NC Voices, where leaders, readers and experts from across North Carolina can speak on issues affecting our communities. Send submissions of 350 words or fewer to opinion@charlotteobserver.com.

My patients in rural NC need help

Rural America is often criticized for a monolithic culture, politics and populace, which makes it easy to stereotype and blame for its health issues. However, it is most unified by a lack of healthcare access.

As clinic co-coordinator and social needs navigator for the free, student-run Bloomer Hill People’s clinic in rural Whitakers, N.C., I have witnessed the consequence of this lack of healthcare access.

Many of our clinic patients struggle with affording medication, getting transportation for appointments, and finding an accessible primary care doctor. For many, having the means, time and place to obtain a COVID vaccine is a luxury they cannot afford, even if the desire is there.

As a N.C. Schweitzer Fellow, I helped develop a referral resource network to help track and fill gaps in healthcare access. However, grassroots efforts like this are a small bandage on the gaping wound of rural healthcare needs.

Lacking the desire or opportunity to live in a city should not jeopardize a person’s life, yet in North Carolina and the broader U.S., the disparity is a stark reality. It magnifies the effects of racial discrimination, poverty, citizenship status and other health outcome determinants, and it is a direct consequence of the decades-long neglect and decline in rural healthcare resources.

Communities have been left to struggle against this unequal allocation of resources largely alone. It’s no wonder vaccine hesitancy, regardless of political affiliation, is higher in rural communities — why trust institutions that have abandoned you?

So yes, our rural community health centers need vaccines and advocates convincing people to take them. They also need doctors. And nurses. And technicians. And hospitals. Mental health professionals. Social workers. Emergency funds. And the understanding that problems years in the making take time and resources to solve.

We must on a policy level invest in rural health facilities and healthcare staff. That’s what gives us the best chance to end the COVID pandemic and pandemics yet to come.

Benjamin Succop Jr., Chapel Hill

A reminder as we recall Hiroshima

The writer is a Ph.D. candidate in nuclear engineering at North Carolina State University.

This month marks the 77th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. To many it may feel like nuclear weapons are a threat of a bygone era. Unfortunately, this could not be further from the truth.

We’ve seen how nuclear weapons have been used as a shield for a war of aggression in Ukraine, accompanied by threats of nuclear weapons use. Whether we like it or not, the nuclear threat has always been dangerously close to home.

In 1961 a B-52 crashed into a swamp outside Goldsboro bearing two Mark 39 thermonuclear bombs, only one of which has been fully recovered. After decades of official denial, a 2013 Freedom of Information Act request revealed that only one of six safety mechanisms prevented the bomb from detonating.

In short, our state was a flip of a switch away from several megatons of atomic fire. Alarmingly, our forgotten brush with disaster serves as an sobering metaphor for contemporary trends.

All nine countries possessing nuclear weapons are either modernizing or expanding their arsenals. They continue to loudly oppose the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which boasts 86 signatory states and entered into force last year. While the war in Ukraine is the most pressing potential flashpoint, there is also growing concern for a similar situation on the Taiwan Strait, as well as an increasingly likely seventh nuclear test by North Korea.

Last year, before the war in Ukraine, Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin signed a joint statement that “nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought,” in direct homage to the same historic declaration made between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985. They were then joined by China, France, and the UK in a joint statement echoing the same belief.

Our leaders must return to that mindset and take the initiative to engage our rivals in the painstaking process of arms control negotiations. We must strengthen channels for communication to avert the kinds of misunderstandings and miscalculations that could lead to nuclear catastrophe. The world is too dangerous to live with only one safety switch.

Owen Webster, Raleigh