Lt. Governor John Fetterman, Democratic nominee for senate, recently returned to the campaign trail after suffering a near fatal stroke in May. In preparation for his return, he conducted his first TV interview since his medical emergency. To many, this interview with CBS Pittsburgh would seem placid, even boring: a rather softball interview with another political candidate. But to Pennsylvania’s rural communities, it was something else. What was supposed to be a shoutout became a smear, an admission of ignorance, and a revelation that Fetterman views the state he wishes to represent through a series of stereotypes.
One must turn to the conversation with KDKA-TV political editor Jon Delano. Per CBS, “Fetterman said he is mentally and physically up for anything that comes his way.”
Fetterman stated, “I’m just grateful. That was a very grave situation at the time. If that would have happened at one in the morning or if it would have happened in Elk County, for example, I probably wouldn’t be with you right now.”
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This wasn’t a slip of the tongue but a premeditated comment. He repeated the line in Erie at an event intended to mark his return to the campaign trail.
People from rural communities like Elk County love when they get attention over larger metros like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. What they don’t love is when their communities are misrepresented by those who claim to be their champion: case in point, Fetterman.
The comment was likely meant to convey that those living in rural communities don’t have access to the lifesaving care he received. One might infer he views that as a policy failure he wishes to address as a senator, although this is something he could have given attention to after nearly four years as Lt. Governor.
It may amaze Fetterman that Penn Highlands Elk, located in Saint Marys, has received initial certification as an Acute Stroke Ready Certified Center. Per reporting by the Courier Express, “Penn Highlands Elk began preparing in 2017 to become an Acute Stroke Ready Certified Center and through the efforts of the team have been able to streamline services for stroke patients. All of the hospitals in the Penn Highlands Healthcare system are prepared to treat strokes in a fast and medically-appropriate manner.”
Fetterman would have known this if he bothered learning about the issues faced by, as well as the successes enjoyed by, rural Pennsylvania. Rather, when Fetterman went on his statewide listening tour to promote marijuana legalization in 2019, his pet issue, a visit to a rural hospital or two would have alleviated him of his stereotypical views.
An official at Penn Highlands, a hospital system serving Elk County and other rural communities, had this to say to me:
“If Fetterman would care to ask, Penn Highlands Elk is Gold Certified in stroke care. So is Penn Highland DuBois. If you are going to have a stroke, Elk County might be the best place in the state to have one. You can cover 50 miles in Elk County in less time than it takes to go two miles in Pittsburgh if you are traveling by car during rush hour. Time is crucial to stroke recovery. So is great care. I’d rather spend five minutes getting to the great hometown hospital in Elk County than 45 minutes stranded on a bridge in Pittsburgh thinking about someday making it to UPMC Presbyterian.”
The official requested not to be named.
Ironically, the policies Fetterman champions would harm the rural hospitals he believes are nonexistent. Fetterman’s current healthcare policy preferences are slippery and vague, even for someone whose parents have spent years bankrolling his political career. For example, during a primary debate this spring, Fetterman danced around the question on whether he would support Medicare for all. However, a piece by Politico touting his entry into the senate primary in April 2021 described Fetterman as “a progressive [that] supports raising the minimum wage, Medicare for All, criminal justice reform and marijuana legalization.” These have long been Fetterman’s true priorities.
Given this fact, it is worth considering what his policies would do to rural Pennsylvania’s hospitals. For example, a 2019 report by consulting firm Navigate found that “offering a government insurance program reimbursing at Medicare rates as a public option on the health insurance exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act (ACA) could place as many as 55% of rural hospitals, or 1,037 hospitals across 46 states, at high risk of closure.”
Personally, I’m sick and tired of the lack of leadership across Pennsylvania. Politicians like Fetterman are constantly trying to one up their opponents in the other party rather than solve the problems that truly bind us.
Fetterman’s ignorance would have consequences if elected senator. Federal aid from the 2020 American Rescue Plan intended to support rural hospitals went to some of the wealthiest urban hospital centers in Pennsylvania. Per reporting from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, “The federal government distributed $7.5 billion nationally to support rural providers, but payments were based on where patients were located, allowing hospitals in urban areas to benefit as well. The Post-Gazette identified 96 payments to hospitals in Pennsylvania, with 38 rural facilities receiving just over half of the money.”
While Fetterman played no part in this legislation, his ignorance suggests he’d blindly support similar legislation claiming to support rural hospitals while shoveling billions of dollars into urban hospitals that do not need support. Fetterman’s recent comments reflect a trend of progressives pretending to stand for rural communities while benefiting wealthy urban and suburban constituents.
When asked for a response to Fetterman’s comments about his community, Lou Radkowski, former mayor of Saint Marys and current school board member for the Saint Marys Area School District, had this to say to me:
“They were irresponsible and showed his lack of knowledge about rural concerns. It suggested Pennsylvania does not have healthcare services for its rural residents, which is untrue. He could partner with us and community stakeholders to work on solutions, but he doesn’t. He’s more interested in having a crudité battle than solving problems,” a reference to Fetterman’s recent dig at his opponent Dr. Oz’s much criticized campaign video.
Radkowski went on to state, “Fetterman shows his true stripes. He’s a party hack who only understands urban concerns. He pays no attention to the words he says. His idea of better healthcare is legal weed.
“Personally, I’m sick and tired of the lack of leadership across Pennsylvania. Politicians like Fetterman are constantly trying to one up their opponents in the other party rather than solve the problems that truly bind us.”
Seth Higgins, a native of Saint Marys, Pennsylvania, specializes in bringing conservative thought to local government. Seth is a former Tablet Magazine Fellow and is currently a Krauthammer Fellow with The Tikvah Fund.