Shelby County and the state of Tennessee were facing a public health emergency long before COVID-19 hit our communities. The Tennessee General Assembly has let seven years pass by without expanding Medicaid, and that single decision has left hundreds of thousands of Tennesseans without healthcare access.
That decision has also put our hospitals and healthcare access in deep trouble. In states that have not expanded Medicaid, hospitals are reportedly over six times more likely to close. That’s exactly what’s has happened in our community. Seven hospitals have closed in West Tennessee since 2010, including one in the midst of the current pandemic: Decatur County General Hospital, Gibson General Hospital, Haywood Park Community Hospital, Humboldt General Hospital, McKenzie Regional Hospital, McNairy Regional Hospital, and Methodist Fayette Hospital.
Surrounding states like Arkansas, Kentucky, and Louisiana have expanded Medicaid. In the state of Arkansas, one hospital has closed since 2010. One hospital has closed in Louisiana. Four hospitals have closed in Kentucky. Meanwhile, in Tennessee, thirteen hospitals have closed in the last ten years. Partly as a result, 21 counties in Tennessee do not have immediate access to an emergency room.
Let me close by saying, before COVID-19 arrived, we already had a public health emergency on our hands because over 675,000 individuals in Tennessee do not have healthcare coverage, more than 100,000 of those live in Shelby County. And now, with the arrival of COVID-19, thousands and thousands of our family members, community leaders, friends, neighbors and loved ones are facing the current pandemic without health insurance.
The Tennessee General Assembly could have expanded Medicaid during the most recent special session. Expanding Medicaid could have been a top priority to keep families healthy and hospitals open for service. This week, I was saddened to see the session end with no action.
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