MAHEC in the News

Buncombe County to receive 'unprecedented' funding to address opioid crisis

Buncombe County is on track to receive millions of dollars to address the ongoing opioid crisis. The county will receive $16 million from a $26 billion national opioid agreement. The money will be paid over a 17-year period, with $1.98 million being paid in 2022.

“This is a crazy opportunity for somebody like me who’s been doing this work for years to really tackle this at different angles,” said Dr. Shuchin Shukla with Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC). [read more]

UnitedHealthcare to Address Maternal Health Outcomes, Access to Care and Health Equity With Doula Program Expansion Into Western North Carolina

UnitedHealthcare, Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC) and SistasCaring4Sistas (SC4S) announced the expansion of a community-based doula program into western North Carolina. The Doulas for Social Justice program, which was started by SistasCaring4Sistas to support primarily Black and low-income women through pregnancy, birth and postpartum, will aim to improve maternal health outcomes among Black women and reduce racial and social disparities among mothers in the region by providing access to quality health care.

With $25,000 in support from UnitedHealthcare, the collaboration with MAHEC and SC4S will expand the Doulas for Social Justice program to provide prenatal services and resources to rural western North Carolina residents. [read more]

Tension builds around best ways to spend NC’s opioid settlement money

During a virtual presentation to county commissioners on January 24 about spending the opioid settlement funds, MAHEC family physician Blake Fagan explained the adherence or success rate of the different treatments for opioid use disorder.

"For the 10 percent of people in long-term recovery who don’t need medication, that’s awesome for them," said Fagan. "But the evidence-based answer to helping people with opioid use disorder are these three medications — buprenorphine, methadone and naltrexone." [read more]

A Legacy for Healthcare in Western NC

William Hathaway, MD, chief executive officer of MAHEC, said that early on MAHEC recognized the importance of training potential providers in rural communities if they wanted them to stay and practice in those areas.

If students only train in clinics and hospitals in large academic centers, they’re missing a key opportunity for exposure. “Medical students are generally not training in rural areas. They train in centrally located academic centers, with role models who are physicians in larger, better-resourced communities,” said Hathaway. [read more]

ARHS to welcome five new resident doctors and a sports medicine fellow this summer

Appalachian Regional Healthcare System participated in its third "Match Day" on March 17, culminating a long process which matches medical school graduates with programs offering residency and fellowship training. This year, ARHS welcomes the third annual class of medical residents to the new Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC) Boone Rural Family Medicine Residency Program that begins in July.

New in 2022 is the MAHEC Boone Primary Care Sports Medicine Fellowship, which will will develop physicians grounded in classical training and skill development bolstered by the newest scientific evidence, technology, and techniques. [read more]

Buncombe's Post-Overdose Response Team begins administering medication in the field

Buncombe County is expanding its treatment options for folks dealing with opioid use disorder. Now, it's offering patients the opportunity to begin that treatment at an incredibly vulnerable moment -- post-overdose.

If the patient isn't quite ready then, they can also call PORT a day later if they change their mind. After the initiation of the buprenorphine, which is administered sublingually, PORT can continue administering that medication for up to five days. Then, the patient is connected to outpatient addiction treatment services at the Mountain Area Health Education Center and other support for needs related to social determinants of health. [read more]

Where to go as some WNC counties start closing COVID-19 testing sites

Some larger COVID-19 testing sites are beginning to close or change operations across Western North Carolina, as local health leaders say we’re moving into a new phase of the pandemic.

"There’s a marked decrease. We started seeing that in late February, actually,” said Marty Stamey, with the Mountain Area Health Education Center. Stamey said officials have been seeing a 60%-70% decrease in testing across Western North Carolina as case rates continue to fall. “The pandemic is not over. We’re not saying it’s over. But, hopefully, we’re going to have a good spring and summer,” he said. [read more]

MAHEC brings new graduate medical training programs to Western North Carolina

On Friday, March 18, MAHEC welcomed 81 new residents on National Resident Matching Program’s Match Day. On this day, medical school graduates from across the United States and abroad learn where they will train for the next three to seven years including graduate medical education (GME) programs here in Western North Carolina.

“Graduate medical education is in many ways the lifeblood of MAHEC, and we are thrilled to welcome learners from across the country into our training programs,” shared MAHEC CEO William Hathaway, MD. “Under the tutelage of our fantastic faculty here at MAHEC and across the region, these providers will develop the skills necessary to become the next generation of caretakers for our community.” [read more]

NC will soon have its first addiction psychiatry training program

The Mountain Area Health Education Center — known as MAHEC — will train up to two psychiatrists in a yearlong fellowship based in western N.C. They’ll learn trauma-informed practices for managing substance use disorder, as well as skills for identifying and effectively treating people experiencing both addiction and other mental illnesses. There are only about 50 other addiction psychiatry fellowships nationwide, just two others are located in rural regions.

Leading MAHEC's program is Stephen Wyatt, an addiction psychiatrist based in Charlotte. Wyatt began his career working in the emergency room in Traverse City, a small town in northern Michigan.

"I had seen a lot of problems associated with substance use in the emergency department," he said. “About 40 percent of all trauma that comes in the emergency department is related to alcohol and other drugs — not only physical problems but emotional problems."

[read more]

FORE Brief Showcases Effective Model of Training Primary Care Providers to Treat OUD

This recent issue brief highlights an innovative approach to expanding access to treatment for opioid use disorder being led by MAHEC and UNC Chapel Hill with the support of the FORE Foundation and Dogwood Health Trust. To date, addiction medicine specialists at MAHEC and UNC have trained and supported 1,430 primary care providers at 13 FQHCs and two health departments across North Carolina. [read more]


Community doulas work toward birth equity

Cindy McMillan co-founded Sistas Caring 4 Sistas with Wakina Robertson and Nikita Smart in 2016, and the group began providing doula services for the Asheville-based Mountain Area Health Education Center. Sistas Caring 4 Sistas has since assisted over 250 families with births.

McMillan has seen maternal health outcomes for families of color increasingly prioritized and credits MAHEC for considering doulas as “an integral part of the health care team,” which enables them to advocate for their patients. “Sitting at the table with all of our partners that we have, the synergy is really good,” she adds. [read more]

Biden's mental health plan a welcome goal, but some skeptical it will come to fruition

In his first State of the Union address, President Joe Biden will discuss Ukraine's fight against a Russian invasion. But the White House says Biden's speech will address other issues Americans face, including a national mental health crisis exacerbated by the pandemic.

"When I look at what the president put forth in his press release, I'm optimistic, cautiously optimistic," said Dr. Bill Hathaway, CEO of MAHEC. He said the non-profit regional health system is already adding programs to beef up mental illness resources for patients. "We're recruiting people to train. We have a psychiatric residency and fellowships in addiction medicine," Dr. Hathaway said. [read more]

New NC law allows pharmacists to dispense birth control, other medication over the counter

Dr. Robert Malsby, medical director for MAHEC's department of OBGYN, spoke with News 13 on Wednesday about how this new law could help shrink North Carolina's roughly 44% unplanned pregnancy rate.

“What we’re hoping is with this new access to birth control that we’re going to be able to help to lower that, because the most important thing is having accessible, effective and affordable management options," Dr. Malsby said. [read more]


Hallum Honored with Lifetime Achievement Award

Congratulations to Jacquelyn Hallum, MBA, MHA, director of MAHEC’s Health Careers and Diversity Education, who was honored with the Suzanne DeFerie Lifetime Achievement Award at this year’s WomanUP Celebration hosted by the Asheville Chamber of Commerce.

The lifetime achievement award recognizes WNC women who have excelled in their careers, fostered the growth and development of other women, and improved our community by sharing their time and talents. Those who have had the pleasure of working alongside Jacquelyn know that she meets all of these criteria and more. [read more]

Sterilization options to stay child-free

People who are looking to be sterilized should ask for referrals from their health care providers, as the specific procedures offered can vary by practice. MAHEC’s Ob-Gyn Specialists do perform tubal ligations. MAHEC also has a Vasectomy Clinic at MAHEC Family Health Center Biltmore; it is the only office in Buncombe County that accepts Medicaid for a vasectomy. [read more]


Q&A with Julie Silver, school nurse for Buncombe County Schools

After eight years of working in a hospital setting, Silver became a school nurse three years ago. She is employed by the Mountain Area Health Education Center, which contracts with Buncombe County Schools and Asheville City Schools, and splits her time between West Buncombe Elementary School and Joe P. Eblen Intermediate School.

Over the last two years, school nurses have added COVID-releated responsibilities to their daily tasks. Those responsibilities include keeping up with changing state guidelines, administering COVID-19 tests, alerting students who have tested positive and contact tracing. Silver believes she and her colleagues have met these challenges "head-on." [read more]

WNC mental health providers warn of ‘doomscrolling’

Doomscrolling usually stems from trying to be better informed, says Dr. Dominique Huneycutt, a psychologist at MAHEC. People feel that by understanding something, they can minimize or mitigate its risks. “We will go to great lengths to avoid uncertainty,” she explains.

She notes how, in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, everyone was trying to understand what was happening (what psychologists would call an adaptive coping strategy). “I think in a very healthy way, we were trying to get answers,” Huneycutt says. “But not having answers was worse in the moment … almost an inertia.” [read more]

Haywood's January COVID surge is worst yet

Marty Stamey, a Bethel resident and former Haywood County manager, now works as the regional coordinator for the Mountain Area Health Education Center. He is on a weekly call with all the hospital administrators in an 18-county area.

“November had the highest number of resignations in healthcare ever recored nationwide,” Stamey said, “and we were already experiencing a shortages of nurses, paramedics, respiratory therapists and other clinical staff. Even support staff is hard to find.”

Even though there are fewer hospitalizations during this surge than were seen a year ago, Stamey said, the staffing shortage is creating a crunch. [read more]

Mission Hospital's Chief Medical Officer changing jobs in WNC

"I’ve come to know MAHEC well over the past 22 years while working and living in Western North Carolina. I have been awed by the organization’s commitment to patient care, serving the underserved, educating the next generation of healthcare workers, and meaningfully improving the health and wellness of our 16-county community,” Hathaway said. “The opportunity to advance these goals is something I could not pass up. I want to thank Dr. Heck for his transformational tenure at MAHEC. He has set the stage for unparalleled organizational success, and he will be missed dearly." [read more]

MAHEC Names William Hathaway, MD, as Next CEO

After conducting a nationwide search, the Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC) is pleased to announce William Hathaway, MD, will succeed Jeffery Heck, MD, who announced his retirement in August after leading the organization through a decade of unprecedented growth. Dr. Hathaway will assume the role of CEO beginning February 7, 2022, and already has a strong understanding of MAHEC’s mission, having served as a member of the not-for-profit organization’s board of directors since 2014 and working closely with MAHEC to expand graduate medical education programs and clinical training opportunities in the region. [read more]

MAHEC offers antibody infusion therapy for omicron COVID-19 variant

In Buncombe County, doctors at Mountain Area Health Education Center are offering a treatment that better combats the omicron variant. But's a limited resource right now.

"We do encourage anyone who is at higher risk for progression to seek the newer therapies, sotrovimab, but it really is going to be limited to those at the highest risk. So, those that are over 80, those that are over 70 unvaccinated, those that are immunocompromised. Those are the patients that we're looking to treat at this point," MAHEC's Dr. Stephanie Call said. [read more]

'I know we've made a difference,' volunteer says after 9,000 COVID vaccinations in WNC

Local health leaders are celebrating more than the holidays this week. They're also celebrating the safety of so many in our community - all thanks to one massive effort.

For nearly six months, medical and military crews worked tirelessly to offer the COVID-19 vaccine to anyone who wanted it.

Marty Stamey remembers the call he received in June when the state asked if he would take on a new project.

"DHHS asked us out of the blue, wasn't even on the agenda, asked us if we would be interested and willing to coordinate a FEMA team," Stamey said. "Primarily, all I would have to do is find locations for them, and I said, OK, I can do that. But it turned out to be quite a bit more work than that." [read more]

Post-Overdose Response Team to begin administering addiction medication on-site

Buncombe County's Post-Overdose Response Team (PORT) is already going beyond Narcan -- not only reviving people after they overdose but also referring them to mental health resources, as well as rehab and recovery services. Soon, PORT will add another tool to its belt: buprenorphine.

"So now the added piece of this which is really innovative and it's groundbreaking, is that EMS team will be able to administer medication for addiction treatment, MAT as we call it, buprenorphine specifically, to these patients when they overdose," said Dr. Shuchin Shukla, a faculty physician at the Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC) and assistant professor at UNC School of Medicine. [read more]

Demand for COVID testing across the mountains picks up going into Christmas

Leading up to the holiday week, Buncombe County was averaging between 5,000 and 6,000 COVID-19 tests a week. That could grow over the next week as families take precautions before they gather.

“The more we test, the better” said Family Nurse Practitioner Carriedelle Fusco outside MAHEC’s acute care clinic the Monday before Christmas. Health leaders say the cars lined up outside MAHEC's acute care clinic awaiting tests are a welcome site.

“Some places you do need an appointment.” said Fusco, and MAHEC’s clinic is one of them. [read more]

Mobile Vaccine Unit Closes After Providing More Than 9,300 Vaccinations

“Every person vaccinated brings us closer to ending this pandemic,” said NCDHHS Secretary Mandy K. Cohen, M.D. “Providing this mobile unit in rural areas of western North Carolina helped bring lifesaving vaccines to communities with fewer health care providers and greater barriers to access like easily accessible transportation.”

The unit provided up to 250 vaccines daily and visited 15 counties during its operation. To identify mobile vaccination sites, NCDHHS collaborated with the WNC Vaccine Acceleration Consortium, a group of more than 80 regional vaccine providers that includes the Mountain Area Health Education Center, local health departments, hospitals and emergency management offices. The Federal Emergency Management Agency contracted the mobile unit and staffed it to support this initiative. [read more]

UNC researchers awarded $4.3M from PCORI to study strategies to improve health outcomes for youth with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their parents

Kathleen C Thomas, PhD, MPH of the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy will lead a comparative effectiveness research study to improve health outcomes for youth with intellectual and developmental disability (IDD) and their parents through two parent peer group interventions, one parent-directed and one adding advocacy skills training.

A $4.3 million award from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) will allow researchers from the UNC Chapel Hill Schools of Pharmacy and Medicine, the UNC Sheps Center for Health Services Research, Olson Huff Center for Child Development at Mission Health, the Mountain Area Health Education Center, Oregon State University, University of Southern California, University of Texas Arlington, Ball State University, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, community partners and stakeholder advocates to address unmet needs among transition-age youth with IDD and their parents. PCORI’s 2019 reauthorizing legislation specifies IDD as a research priority. [read more]

Hundreds roll up their sleeves during FEMA's pop-up COVID vaccine clinics in WNC

The vaccines were offered free of charge for anyone age five and older, no appointment necessary. High school senior, Joseph Weinmeister said in a way, it was comforting to be in a familiar environment. Weinmeister received his booster in the middle of the cafeteria where he usually eats lunch.

"It was good," Weinmeister said. "It’s not the worst shot I’ve ever got!" Weinmeister said it was important for him to get the booster.

His reasoning was two-fold: “Just making sure I stay safe,” he said. "Also, my grandparents and my family that I’m going to be seeing over the holidays, making sure they’re going to be alright.” [read more]

Expanding Access To Treatment For Opioid Use Disorder: Beyond "X-ing The X-Waiver"

Clinicians at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC), an academic health center based in Asheville, are following the “hub-and-spoke” model. Experts at these two hubs are lending oversight and support to primary care clinicians, behavioral health clinicians, nurses, and other staff at the spoke clinics—13 community health centers and two local health departments that serve rural, low-income communities.

Shuchin Shukla, a family physician and opioid educator at MAHEC, says this network of providers and staff—now numbering 690 serving 43 counties—creates a community of practice around OUD treatment, which can otherwise feel like a lonely endeavor. The providers text each other questions such as where to find the cheapest place for their patients to purchase buprenorphine without insurance, or how to help patients with problems beyond addiction.

[read more]


MAHEC Announces New Chair of Department of Family Medicine

Mountain Area Health Education Center announced Blake Fagan, MD, will chair MAHEC’s Department of Family Medicine beginning January 1, 2022, building on the successful tenure of Steve Hulkower, MD, who has guided the department’s growth for 13 years in addition to treating patients for more than 30. This past spring, Dr. Hulkower announced his plans to step down as chair in order to focus on patient care. In his new role, Dr. Fagan will provide strategic leadership for the rapidly growing department affiliated with the UNC Department of Family Medicine. MAHEC’s full-scope family medicine teaching practice employs 300 faculty and staff serving approximately 30,000 patients through 90,000 visits annually at six clinical sites in Asheville, NC.

[read more]


Addiction medicine fellowship program aims to improve access to care in rural western NC

The Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC) is training a new class of physicians to be leaders in the field of addiction medicine. Right now, MAHEC is in the second class of its Addiction Medicine Fellowship Program, which trains physicians to provide addiction treatment services in rural and underserved areas, where they're needed the most.

Kendrick White is one of two of this year's fellows. White said he's known for a long time that addiction medicine is what he wanted to specialize in. "Almost everyone has been impacted or knows someone impacted with addiction so that's certainly a motivating factor, knowing the number of people you can impact," White said. "It's a chronic disease that affects all walks of life. No one can really be shielded from it in a sense."

[read more]

UNC Asheville-MAHEC-FEMA Vaccination Site Celebrates 20,000 Doses and Counting, with Pfizer Vaccine to Children Ages 5-11

The COVID-19 Vaccine and Booster Clinic at the UNC Asheville Reuter Center has administered its 20,000th dose of the COVID vaccine with the addition of the pediatric Pfizer vaccine the weekend of Nov. 5. The Pfizer vaccine is now available for ages 5-11. Appointments are not required for this walk-in clinic.

The COVID-19 Vaccine and Booster Clinic on the University’s campus continues to offer all three COVID-19 booster shots (Pfizer, Moderna and J&J) for those eligible, in addition to all three vaccines (Pfizer, Moderna and J&J) for those seeking their first or second vaccine dose. Due to demand, additional dates have been added to the clinic schedule into December. The clinic is operated in partnership with the Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

UNC Asheville and MAHEC began operating a COVID-19 Immunization Site from February through June 2021 with continued community outreach through the summer. The site celebrated 15,000 vaccines in April 2021.

[read more]

DEA takes aggressive stance toward pharmacies trying to dispense addiction medicine

Buprenorphine, a controlled substance sold under the brand names Subutex and Suboxone, is a medication to treat opioid use disorder. Research shows it halves the risk of overdose and doubles people's chances of entering long-term recovery.

Dr. Nathan Mullins, addiction medicine fellowship director at Mountain Area Health Education Center in North Carolina, says switching the medications of patients recovering from opioid use disorder can cause needless anxiety. [read more]

Asheville Outlets to host free COVID-19 vaccine clinics

FEMA’s mobile vaccine center will be based at the Asheville Outlets at 800 Brevard Road. The stationary vaccine center can administer up to 250 vaccines each day. First and second doses, as well as booster vaccines will be provided.

As the more contagious Delta variant drives increases in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, more help is on the way for Western North Carolina. FEMA is sending a mobile community vaccine center to Buncombe County this week in partnership with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS), Local Health Departments, and the Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC). [read more]

Top 5 COVID-19 questions answered: What you need to know about vaccines for kids ages 5-11

COVID-19 vaccines have been approved for the youngest county residents, and as Buncombe County Health and Human Services prepares to begin administering those doses, officials Nov. 3 answered pressing questions about vaccines for kids.

The Mountain Area Health and Education Center, partnering with UNC Asheville, is hosting clinics for 5- to 11-year-olds at the UNC Asheville Reuter Center at 1 Campus Road in Asheville. [read more]

MAHEC program supports expectant mothers struggling with addiction

A common misunderstanding about mothers with substance use disorders is that “these women don’t love their children — if they did, they would stop,” says Tammy Cody, a social worker with Project CARA. “All of the women love their children and care for them, and that’s why they’re seeking care. Often the substance use is a result of the trauma they’ve experienced in their history.”

Project CARA creates a safe space for patients’ openness and honesty, explains Ramage. Elizabeth struggled after losing someone close to her due to an overdose. “I didn’t know how to deal with that grief without turning back to the same thing I always had,” she says. [read more]

Mission addresses opioid crisis by curbing supply & expanding education, treatment access

Mission Health has also created a new fellowship program for people who want to specialize in addiction medication. It's a two-year program in partnership with Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC) that trains doctors who want to specialize in treating addiction.

"We have enrolled our first fellows this year and so it's brand new and we're looking beyond that addiction fellowship and having a special residency program, or fellowship program in psychiatry, where psychiatrists who have completed their regular training do additional training in addiction medicine," he said. [read more]

Need a COVID booster? Buncombe County, UNC Asheville offer free, walk-in clinics

With each variety of COVID-19 vaccine approved for booster doses, local clinics are offering free shots with no appointments for those who need them.

Weekend clinics have started at UNC Asheville in partnership with the university, Mountain Area Health Education Center and FEMA, as well as by Buncombe County Health and Human Services, all offering first doses and boosters alike.

"Per the CDC, since risk can vary across settings and based on how much COVID-19 is spreading in a community, people aged 18–64 years who are at increased risk for COVID-19 exposure and transmission because of occupational or institutional setting may get a booster shot after considering their individual risks and benefits," UNCA's Oct. 22 announcement says.

Michelle Morgan, spokesperson with MAHEC, said all vaccinations at the UNCA clinic are free, and no insurance information or appointments are needed. [read more]

White House details plans to vaccinate 28M children age 5-11

Children ages 5 to 11 will soon be able to get a COVID-19 shot at their pediatrician’s office, local pharmacy and potentially even their school, the White House said Wednesday as it detailed plans for the expected authorization of the Pfizer shot for elementary school youngsters in a matter of weeks.

Dr. Lisa Reed, medical director for family medicine at MAHEC, a western North Carolina safety net provider that serves patients from rural Appalachia and more urban communities such as the tourist town of Asheville, said it is going to take effort to get some families on board. Reed said she lives “in a community that has a lot of vaccine hesitancy, unfortunately.”

“Some have lower health literacy or belong to ethnic groups that are more hesitant in general” because of a history of mistrust, she said. And Asheville, she said, has a sizeable population of well-educated adults who are longtime vaccine skeptics. [read more]

All 3 COVID-19 booster vaccines now available at MAHEC clinic on UNCA campus

UNC Asheville is partnering with Mountain Area Health Education Center and FEMA to offer Pfizer booster shots this month.

They will provide the shots on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in October at the Reuter Center on the UNCA campus. No appointment is needed. And they will also offer first and second doses of vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson and Johnson. [read more]

New pregnancy care and childbirth options at AppFamily Medicine

Enter the Mountain Area Health Education Center and the Boone Rural Family Medicine Residency Program, which began at AppFamily Medicine and Watauga Medical Center in 2020. Family medicine residents are accredited doctors who have recently graduated from medical school. They receive three years of further training in six major medical areas — pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology (OB/GYN), internal medicine, psychiatry and neurology, surgery, and community medicine. Those young physicians will be the future of family medicine in the High Country and other rural areas.

To accomplish OB/GYN training for these young doctors, AppFamily Medicine welcomes Dr. Womack as supervisor for obstetric and gynecologic education for the residency program.

Dr. Womack said that she treasures the “privilege to be with women in their most vulnerable and intimate and important parts of their lives.” Now, she can share that same passion and privilege with doctors in the first phase of their careers. [read more]

BIPOC Medical Mentoring Program Sets Students Up for Successful Careers

The Minority Medical Mentoring Program (MMMP) is currently accepting applications from Asheville and Buncombe County students in their junior year who have a serious interest in pursuing a health career and are members of Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) and/or underrepresented Asian communities.

“Health career internships like these are critical for increasing the numbers of BIPOC health professionals in North Carolina, especially here in WNC,” explains Jacquelyn Hallum, MHA, MBA, Director of Health Careers and Diversity Education at UNC Health Sciences at MAHEC. “Unfortunately, many of these students have never seen a healthcare provider who looks like them. Students need to be able to ‘see what they can be.’ Becoming a healthcare provider is a powerful way to help eliminate the many health disparities facing communities of color.” [read more]

UNCA to host COVID-19 booster clinics in October

UNC Asheville is partnering with Mountain Area Health Education Center and FEMA to offer Pfizer booster shots this month.

They will provide the shots on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in October at the Reuter Center on the UNCA campus. No appointment is needed. And they will also offer first and second doses of vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson and Johnson.

"We just want to make it available, whether it’s your first shot or second shot or where you’re considering a booster. We just want to really make sure that it’s available," MAHEC regional vaccine coordinator Marty Stamey said. [read more]

Why does Asheville need a low-barrier emergency shelter?

A MAHEC survey of 101 unsheltered area homeless found many served jail time, struggled with learning disabilities and had mental health needs not being met.

“The majority of the people that we interviewed had a provider tell them that they had a physical and a mental health condition. The highest physical health conditions we found were dental concerns, chronic pain and high blood pressure. The highest mental health conditions we found were PTSD, anxiety and depression,” said Dr. Amber Beane, MAHEC Program Evaluation Team lead. [read more]

Asheville’s mental health support for area veterans

The Air Force honorably discharged Mahoney on Sept. 17, 2000, and he returned to his wife in Augusta, Ga. “Things were great for about two months,” he says. And then his adjustment to civilian life turned south.

“When I came out, I was not a well person,” Mahoney explains. “Within two years of discharging, I was homeless. I had lost my marriage, lost family.”

Following years of living on the streets, in 2005 Mahoney began his “discovery” — he prefers the word to “recovery,” as it means gaining self-knowledge — and took a new direction in his life. He moved to Western North Carolina in 2008 and began working in community crisis support. Today he’s living a different dream, working as a peer support specialist at the Asheville-based Mountain Area Health Education Center. He primarily works with people without housing. [read more]

Dogwood Health Trust Funds Student Health Ambassador Program at Six WNC Colleges and Universities to Continue Campus Initiatives and Community Engagement in 2021-22

The Student Health Ambassadors are back on campuses throughout Western North Carolina this fall, in an initiative led by UNC Asheville, with support from Dogwood Health Trust. A $486,524 grant from Dogwood Health Trust will fund Student Health Ambassador positions at six colleges and universities in Western North Carolina, including Brevard College, Mars Hill University, Montreat College, Warren Wilson College, and Western Carolina University, in addition to the flagship program at UNC Asheville. Up to 50 students will be employed in the program for the 2021-22 year, with project management in partnership with the Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC).

The institutions of higher education first envisioned the Student Health Ambassadors (SHA) program with the return to campus of fall 2020, supported by funding from the NC Policy Collaboratory and MAHEC. In the collaborative pilot program year, the SHAs centered on peer-led communication and support to address the urgent need to reduce infections and encourage well-being during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. [read more]

Spotlight Carolina: MAHEC

MAHEC is holding a conference for healthcare providers on caring for our African American population of community members in Western North Carolina. Designed to create awareness on healthcare inequities which affect African American communities. MAHEC's goal is to increase knowledge and awareness of racism as a healthcare crisis. [watch video]


Healthcare providers 'can't answer demand' for COVID-19 antibody treatment, doctor says

MAHEC’s clinic will reopen for requests on Monday, Sept. 20, in a new, expanded space with capacity for 16 to 20 patients a day.

The treatment must be given in the first few days of the illness.

Clinic leaders said they’re seeing unvaccinated and vaccinated people coming in, but the unvaccinated tend to be sicker. Because of this, leaders said priority is given to them. [read more]

Having a hard time scheduling a same-day COVID test? Here's why.

“We’re turning away people who may be folks in the community who are looking to get someone tested same day,” said Carriedelle Fusco, family nurse practitioner at Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC).

Fusco said their call volume is two to three times higher than a month ago and that it could take a couple days for people to get scheduled for a test at their clinic. [read more]

Buncombe official proposes COVID-19 vaccine mandate for schools; more medical staff hired

To assist in controlling COVID-19 in the districts, commissioners at the Sept. 7 meeting approved $117,000 in spending for two medical assistants to coordinate COVID-19 testing, isolation and quarantine in local schools. The $117,000 comes from temporary federal funds awarded to local health departments to continue efforts to keep children learning in-person.

The Buncombe County Department of Health and Human Services will use the funds to extend its contract with the Mountain Area Health Education Center, which will hire the medical assistants.

Both school districts provide free COVID-19 rapid testing to students and staff, spokespeople told the Citizen Times. [read more]

Buncombe health experts renew push for COVID vaccine amid significant rise in new cases

The Western North Carolina Vaccine Acceleration Consortium’s main priority is making the vaccine more accessible and convenient. The group is a partnership between FEMA, N.C. Emergency Management, MAHEC and local health officials. They’ve hosted mobile vaccination clinics across the state in recent months.

“A lot of the people who would not go to physician’s offices or health departments have actually came out to the FEMA sites,” said Marty Stamey, MAHEC Regional Vaccine Coordinator.

Stamey said more than 700 people have been vaccinated at the mobile vaccination clinics. [read more]

Mars Hill University administration makes masks mandatory indoors for students, staff

"Seeing the rising positivity rate of the counties around us, we felt like it was time to just go ahead and require masks for all indoors," Samantha Fender, Mars Hill University's senior director of marketing and communications, said. "We have a Coronavirus Response Team, as well as our president's leadership team."

The university is also a part of a consortium through Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC), which includes Western Carolina University, Brevard College, UNC-Asheville and Warren Wilson College.

"That's really who we're comparing our policies with, and just making sure that we all have the same outcomes of having our campus full of students and having a residential experience," Fender said. "Those presidents meet almost weekly. Then, there are several physicians that meet with them to update them on what the pulblic health situation is looking like, and what their current guidance is." [read more]

From Uber Rides to Patient Advocates: What It Takes to Increase ER Addiction Treatment

Using just over $1 million in grant funding from two foundations, the Mountain Area Health Education Center trained 11 health centers and two local health departments over the past year and a half to provide medications for opioid use disorder. From March 2020 to May 2021, those centers treated more than 400 patients with the disorder.

Dr. Shuchin Shukla, who heads the program alongside partners at the University of North Carolina- Chapel Hill, said the centers have become obvious referral spots for doctors who start patients on medication in the ER. “We consider ourselves a model for how to do this in a Medicaid non-expansion state,” Shukla said.

North Carolina also has programs to train medical students, residents, nurse practitioners and physician assistants in addiction care. [read more]

Many ERs Fail People Who Struggle With Addiction. These New Approaches Might Help.

Dr. Blake Fagan is chief education officer at the Mountain Area Health Education Center in Asheville, N.C. For years, when he approached hospital ERs to offer addiction training, he heard a common refrain. "We don't have any place to send patients afterwards," he says doctors told him.

Without a clear place for patients to continue treatment, the doctors were reluctant to even start medications for opioid use. That's when Fagan and his colleagues realized their training had to extend beyond hospitals.

Using just over $1 million in grant funding from two foundations, the Mountain Area Health Education Center has trained the staff at 11 health centers and two local health departments over the past year and a half to provide medications for opioid use disorder. From March 2020 to May 2021, those centers treated more than 400 patients with the disorder. [read more]

Mountain Area Health Education Center CEO Announces Retirement

After nine and a half years leading the Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC), Jeffery Heck, MD, has announced plans to retire as CEO of the Asheville-based academic health center and safety net provider.

As MAHEC’s president and CEO since 2012, Heck led the organization through a threefold expansion, increasing the nonprofit’s annual operating budget from $30 to $100 million and the number of employees from 300 to more than 900. He guided the expansion of MAHEC’s graduate medical education programs to include surgery, psychiatry, rural medicine, addiction medicine, and internal medicine residency and fellowship programs in addition to family medicine, ob/gyn, dentistry, and pharmacotherapy programs.

Although he is stepping down from his leadership role, Heck will continue to see geriatric patients at Deerfield Retirement Community, ending his career as he began it: caring for patients. [read more]

Two Asheville-based students named NC AHEC scholars

UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy Asheville-based Pharm.D. students Haley Simkins and Brandyn Wilcox have been named North Carolina Area Health Education Centers (NC AHEC) Scholars. Simkins and Wilcox will participate in the scholars program in Western North Carolina – the Mountain Area Health Education Centers (MAHEC) – along with 33 of their peers.

“The NC AHEC Scholars Program focuses on interprofessional teams, community engagement, leadership, and diversity which are important values for the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy. This program will provide Haley and Brandyn with additional unique skills and showcase the profession of pharmacy to participants from other disciplines,” said Mollie Ashe Scott, Pharm.D., Regional Associate Dean of the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy Asheville Campus. [read more]

Wellness in brief: COVID-19 updates for WNC

The Asheville-based Mountain Area Health Education Center has experienced an increase in patients receiving antibody infusion treatments — the antibody cocktail called REGEN-COV — in recent weeks.

During the week of July 19, the center’s infusion team served 21 people, says Keelan Dorn, a family medicine nurse practitioner at MAHEC. From January through April, she estimates that the health center performed 10-20 infusions per week, but only five infusions took place during all of June. [read more]

UNC Researchers Awarded $10 Million from PCORI to Study Methods of Reducing Racial Inequities in Maternal Care

A $10-million award from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) will allow researchers from the UNC School of Medicine, Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC), and community partners to address a growing problem in the world of maternal healthcare. Pregnancy complications are increasing in the United States, and this is worse for Black patients, who are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy than white patients.

“Inequity in maternal mortality and morbidity is a big problem, and in our field it’s the biggest one,” said Rachel Urrutia, MD, assistant professor in the UNC Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology. “We need a big solution.” [read more]

Health officials hope Swannanoa vaccination clinic helps those who have been holding off

FEMA, MAHEC and local health departments have set up a mobile vaccination clinic that is rotating through different counties in Western North Carolina. This week, the mobile vaccination clinic is in Swannanoa in the Ingles parking lot.

“Some people just do not feel comfortable right now going into local health departments or urgent care,” MAHEC's Marty Stamey said. [read more]


Zo Mpofu & Dakisha Wesley: Forging Alliances to Declare Racism a Public Health and Safety Crisis

“In Buncombe County, infant mortality rates for African-American babies are more than twice as high as rates for white babies,” Frank Castelblanco, chair of the Department of Continuing Professional Development at MAHEC, said. “For a lot of babies, their health is determined before they are born.”

These disparities are, again, rooted in racist policies and practices that create inequities.

“We landed on the two canaries that are embraced by the World Health Organization ‘WHO’ that indicate how healthy your community is: infant mortality and birth outcomes, specifically racial disparities; and mental health, to include adverse childhood experiences,” Zo Mpofu said.

Mpofu and Castelblanco began ensuring that they considered racism, equity, and inclusion in all conversations about public health with all cross-sector partners. [read more]

MAHEC sees increase in COVID-19 antibody infusion treatments as cases rise

An increase in COVID-19 cases has also increased the amount of antibody infusion treatments happening in Asheville.

MAHEC recently paused treatment, switching to a new medication to better treat the COVID-19 delta variant.

"The Regen-COV in the studies earlier this year have shown a 70% decrease in deaths of non-hospitalized patients and also a symptom reduction of four days," said MAHEC Nurse Practitioner Keelan Dorn. [read more]

Birthing pains

Following the closure of the WNC Birth Center, women seeking midwifery care do have other options, primarily in affiliation with area hospitals. MAHEC employs seven CNMs who each have medical staff privileges at Mission Hospital, says Byrd. Those CNMs are part of a pool with physicians to be on call for labor and delivery, she notes, and they don’t provide midwifery service overnight or on weekends. [read more]


Free COVID-19 vaccine clinic runs through July 25 at Asheville Outlets

As the more contagious Delta variant drives increases in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, more help is on the way for Western North Carolina.

FEMA is sending a mobile community vaccine center to Buncombe County this week in partnership with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS), local health departments and the Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC). [read more]

As delta variant spreads and vaccinations lag, new COVID-19 cases surge in Buncombe, state

MAHEC, which offers monoclonal antibody infusions to treat COVID-19, is "definitely seeing the signs of a surge," said Jennifer Maurer, external communications manager.

On July 21, she said the infusion clinic has seen 21 referrals in the past three days, compared to just five for the entire month of June. [read more]


Parents awaiting updated mask guidance wonder what school year will look like for kids

MAHEC School Health Program Manager April Baur oversees Buncombe County Schools, Asheville City Schools and some local charter schools. She asked that parents be patient as they wait for new guidance from state health officials.

“Try as much as possible to be patient, to be flexible, to understand that anything we do in the schools related to COVID-19 protocols are aimed at keeping everybody safe,” Baur said. [read more]

Western North Carolina Initiative Integrates Obstetric and Gynecological Care With Substance Use Treatment

Within MAHEC Obstetrics and Gynecology (OBGYN) Specialists, Project CARA (Care that Advocates Respect, Resilience, and Recovery for All) has supported over 800 pregnant and parenting people with substance use disorders (SUDs) since its launch in 2014.

MAHEC first offered integrated substance use treatment services with obstetric visits in the late 1990s, recognizing that those seeking perinatal care may also need treatment services for SUD, including OUD. Locating the program in a maternal-fetal medicine care network allows Project CARA to provide a hub-and-spoke approach by partnering with other prenatal care agencies to build similar, smaller-scaled models in other counties. In addition to the services offered at MAHEC (the “hub”), Project CARA partners with two clinics (the “spokes”) to provide substance use treatment integrated with obstetric clinical services. [read more]


Even before coronavirus, almost half of adults in rural areas went without dental care

“The things that really went by the wayside [with the pandemic] are the maintenance, the routine exams and the cleanings — things that keep people healthy,” said Katherine Jowers, who oversees oral health programs at the Asheville-based Mountain Area Health Education Center. “ … We’re still dealing with very old treatment plans for patients we haven’t seen in two years. Nothing was on fire so they didn’t come, and now all of their plans are completely disrupted and we have to start from scratch.” [read more]

In North Carolina’s mountains, broadband isn’t a given

Bryan Hodge, director of rural initiatives at the Asheville-based Mountain Area Health Education Center, has seen these issues again and again in health care. During the pandemic, for instance, MAHEC created a virtual coronavirus vaccine outreach campaign, but it became clear early on that this information wouldn’t reach rural residents. MAHEC opted for the costlier, slower method of reaching residents with information, including billboards, radio and television ads, and printed materials.

For a short time, it seemed as though the renewed focus on telemedicine would bring the funds and public attention that would eventually connect more rural residents to the internet. Late last year, Gov. Cooper announced a $30 million investment in roughly 70 rural broadband projects, at least seven of which would benefit rural households in the mountain region of the state. [read more]

Place-Based Health in the Pandemic Era

For the team of educators at MAHEC, this philosophy was the foundation for partnering with the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health to launch the Master of Public Health (MPH) program in Asheville, NC in 2018. Recognizing that health challenges faced by populations in Western NC often differed from other parts of the state, program founder Travis Johnson, MD, MPH, saw a need for public health education to go beyond the walls of the classroom and connect with local agencies to solve the region’s unique issues in real-time.

The Asheville MPH program, with its concentration in Place-Based Health, has an administrative home in the Gillings School’s interdisciplinary Public Health Leadership Program (PHLP). “This concentration is unique within Gillings,” said Anna Schenck PhD, PHLP director and associate dean for practice. “It is available only in Asheville, and it is the only program of its kind in the country. It has been designed to celebrate and leverage the unique context of the western part of our state.” [read more]

Pandemic within the pandemic: Isolation, stress breed long-term mental health issues

"We have seen dramatic changes over the last year with regards to patient need," said Shane Lunsford, administrative director for the Department of Psychiatry at the Mountain Area Health Education Center. "We're seeing increases across the board."

"I think we're seeing a lot of changes from the pandemic, and I also think we're seeing changes from the numerous strains on the mental health system in general, and I think those are dovetailing," said Dr. Dominique Huneycutt, psychologist with MAHEC. [read more]

Buncombe among state’s leading counties in elder abuse

The UNC School of Government notes that elder abuse is a “catchall term” that isn’t defined by North Carolina statute, and Buncombe APS focuses on adults who are “functionally disabled” rather than distinguishing by age. But state law does define elder adults people age 60 or older who are not able to provide for their medical, social, financial, psychiatric, psychological or legal well-being.

Older adults who experience abuse are “much more likely to report higher levels of depression and anxiety, as well as a trauma and stressor-related disorder” (similar to post-traumatic stress disorder) from chronic abuse, explains Katie Rowe, a psychologist for the Asheville-based Mountain Area Health Education Center. [read more]

Asheville homeless line up for COVID-19 vaccine

Dozens of Asheville's most vulnerable are now more protected against COVID-19.

BeLoved Asheville, Mountain Area Health Education Center and the city of Asheville teamed up to offer vaccines in the heart of downtown on Tuesday. Anyone could stop by the bus station for either the Johnson & Johnson or Pfizer vaccine. Those who got a shot also got a free annual bus pass.

Organizers said there was a line of people waiting before the event even began. "It's really exciting to have an opportunity to reach the community and those people that may not have access to it or they may not have a primary care provider or they weren't able to get transportation to the other locations we've been at," MAHEC's Kimberly Knoppel said. [read more]

WNC health care providers work to cut opioid prescriptions

For the past decade, a bold plan has been underway to address one of the root causes of OUDs: Educate the medical community to prescribe opioids less frequently and in smaller amounts. The goal, explains Dr. Blake Fagan, is to prevent patients from becoming addicted to legal opioids in the first place.

“It’s literally like turning the Titanic,” says Fagan, the chief education officer at Asheville’s Mountain Area Health Education Center. But unlike the Titanic, the response to this emergency is working.

Fagan, who is also the co-medical director of MAHEC’s office-based opioid treatment services, says he witnessed the overprescription of opioids mounting throughout the 1990s and 2000s. “In Western North Carolina, if your 16-year-old got their wisdom teeth removed, they got 60 Percocet,” he says, noting that his own daughters received such prescriptions when they had oral surgery five years ago. [read more]

Expanding medication-assisted therapy training for health care professionals

About a decade ago, Blake Fagan vowed he would never write a prescription for Suboxone, a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone used to curb the opioid craving. The Asheville family physician had seen the ravages of the opioid crisis up close and couldn’t imagine aiding and abetting it which he believed medication-assisted therapy would do.

“I said, you’re just substituting one addiction for another,” said Fagan, chief education officer at UNC Health Sciences at the Mountain Area Health Education Center in Asheville.

These days, Fagan not only prescribes Suboxone (the generic name is buprenorphine), he sees that primary care doctors in residency programs in North Carolina are qualified to prescribe the drug, too. He views this as another spoke in the wheel of addiction treatment. [read more]

Tackling NC’s rural provider shortage, one residency slot at a time

Molly Benedum, a MAHEC physician who oversees the residency in Boone, knows the need for primary care in rural areas is bigger than her program alone can fill. Four primary care residents, however, are enough to make a huge difference in her town, she said.

“While the residents are here, they’re also helping to meet the primary care needs of the community,” she said. “ … We have a clinic here, and since they got here, they’ve been taking care of patients in the clinic and in the hospital. It immediately creates access where there wasn’t access.” [read more]


Parenting help is a click away with The Positive Parenting Program

The Positive Parenting Program (Triple P) is an evidence-based program gives parents confidence and in turn, helps them raise confident children.

Through grant-funding, local parents and caregivers have access to this free, positive parenting course online. According to Karla Weis, Triple P Outreach and Implementation Coordinator at Mountain Area Health Education Center, the program is self-paced, non-judgmental and effective.

“Triple P gives parents and caregivers the skills to raise confident, healthy children and teenagers,” Weis said. “It builds stronger family relationships. Triple P also helps parents and caregivers manage behaviors.” [read more]

Community health workers forge trusted connections

“Community health workers are critically important to successful public health outreach efforts,” says Dr. Susan Mims, DHT’s interim CEO and former chair of MAHEC’s community and public health department. “We are proud to support the Community Health Worker Initiative with MAHEC and the legacy foundations. We are seeing how this important role is helping people get COVID-19-related care and stay connected to other needed health services, including preventive and chronic disease care.”

Thus far, the partnership has hired nine community health workers to work in 17 of the 18 westernmost counties in North Carolinas. MAHEC is actively working to identify sustainable long-term funding options; additional funding opportunities may arise after North Carolina transitions to a Medicaid managed care system beginning on Thursday, July 1. [read more]

The next ‘new normal’: Navigating the pandemic with full immunity

At least one pre-pandemic ritual may be a thing of the past, however: blowing candles on a birthday cake.

“I personally hope that we lose the blowing [candles] tradition,” said April Baur, school health program manager at the Asheville-based Mountain Area Health Education Center. “Another thing that we see with all of our COVID safety measures is that the rates of seasonal flu were extremely low. So I think there may be things we can take forward with us.” [read more]

Buncombe jail opioid program is giving inmates a fighting chance against addiction

Buncombe County leads the way when it comes to helping inmates fight addiction. The medication-assisted treatment, or MAT, program started back in 2019. The program is used as an option for individuals with opioid use disorder at the Buncombe County Detention Facility. The program utilizes medication-assisted treatment (MAT) to help inmates start the road to long-term recovery.

“Investing in this care is not only a morally appropriate and compassionate for our communities, it’s actually cost savings,” said Dr. Shuchin Shukla, MAHEC’s opioid crisis educator. [read more]

New clinic addresses lingering post-COVID symptoms

Tens of thousands of people in the United States experience lingering illness after a bout with COVID-19. The condition, called post-acute COVID-19, may impact up to 60% of people previously infected with the coronavirus. These COVID-19 “long-haulers” show persistent symptoms two months after the onset of the disease — even after tests no longer detect the virus in their bodies.

While those lingering effects can be bleak for patients, a newly opened clinic promises hope and support for Western North Carolina residents with long-haul COVID-19 symptoms. Spearheaded by Dr. Stephanie Call and nurse practitioner Keelan Dorn, the Post-Acute Covid-19 Care Clinic at the Mountain Area Health Education Center is the first of its kind in the region. [read more]

Nonprofit efforts to support Black maternal health gain momentum – will state lawmakers help?

The community-based doula program SistasCaring4Sistas, founded by women of color, provides services through the Mountain Area Health Education Center in western North Carolina. Of 90 patients served through May 2019, more than 93% of babies were born at a healthy weight and more than 87% were full-term, according to MAHEC. All were delivered vaginally and nearly 97% of mothers received prenatal care in their first trimester.

Clients of SistasCaring4Sistas "face some of the greatest challenges in the community accessing care, overcoming systemic racism, and many barriers to employment, education, transportation," MAHEC spokeswoman Jennifer Maurer said in an email. [read more]

Need a shot? MAHEC offers J&J doses at final clinic May 1, no appointment necessary

As the COVID-19 vaccination effort shifts into doctor's offices and pharmacies, the Mountain Area Health Education Center is launching its last weekend vaccination clinic with walk-up shots for anyone who wants one.

"What we're doing is shifting our focus," said Jennifer Maurer, external communications manager at MAHEC.

MAHEC will offer the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine free, with no appointments needed, between 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, May 1, at UNCA, and Maurer said supply is ample, up to 800 doses.

She said she doesn't anticipate any lack of doses for people who want them, and anyone who shows up between those hours will get a shot. [read more]

UNC Asheville-MAHEC Vaccination Site Celebrates 15,000 Doses and Counting

The partnership between UNC Asheville and the Mountain Area Health Education Center includes shared expertise and a commitment to the community and region. Now it’s reaching more individuals than either organization could alone, nearly three times the combined student and employee numbers of UNC Asheville, which has a student enrollment of 3,400 and just under 1,000 employees, and adding about 10% to MAHEC’s reach, which includes 170,000 annual patient visits in North Carolina’s 16 westernmost counties.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, the strong partnership between UNC Asheville and MAHEC has continued to deepen and broaden in a variety of ways that support our shared commitment toinfographic detailing UNC System campus vaccination clinic stats education and public health,” said UNC Asheville Chancellor Nancy J. Cable. [read more]

Addiction and COVID-19, "twindemic" crises creates challenges for local officials

Nationally, more than 81,000 Americans died from drug overdoses between May 2019 and May 2020. That's according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC also noted this was the highest number of overdose deaths ever recorded in a one-year period.

But, it's a stat Dr. Shuchin Shukla says didn't hold true here. "The worst in Buncombe was before 2018," he said. "And the worst for the state was before 2018. Like 2017."

Shukla works at the Mountain Area Health Education Center, or MAHEC. He serves as the opioid crisis educator. "Addiction is a medical disease -- particularly opioid addiction," Dr. Shukla said. [read more]

New Glaser Award Winners Announced At Addiction Medicine 2021

Blake Fagan, MD, and Eric Morse, MD were both awarded the Frederick B. Glaser Award on April 9 at the Addiction Medicine 2021 conference. The biennial award, given by the Governor’s Institute and the NC Chapter of the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), honors addiction medicine physicians for achievement and meritorious service in the domains of substance use disorder treatment, education, research and leadership. This year’s awarding committee was deadlocked, a first for the award, and a telling sign of the quality of addiction doctors in the Tar Heel state.

Dr. Fagan, a family physician at the Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC) in Asheville and a professor in the Department of Family Medicine at UNC-Chapel Hill, has served as the co-director of the Office-Based Opioid Treatment (OBOT) services provided at MAHEC’s Family Health Center since its inception in 2015. [read more]

Sweeping legislation aims to combat Black maternal mortality

Evidence suggests birth doulas may help combat some of the risk factors associated with maternal mortality. People who are supported by a doula when giving birth are significantly less likely to need a cesarean section, which Black people experience at higher rates than all other racial groups. They can also serve as an advocate, a second set of eyes, and a birthing resource.

“We all have had adverse maternal experiences,” said Wakina Norris, a doula in the SistasCaring4Sistas collective, which works in partnership with Mountain Area Health Education Center and Mothering Asheville. “I hear other people’s stories and mine may not have ended in death, but it was traumatic and close enough.” [read more]

Announcing the Arrival of Dr. Ann Davis and Dr. Kristy Fincher as New Primary Care Physicians at Blue Ridge Health – Highlands Cashiers

After more than eight months of searching for “just the right fit”, The Highlands Cashiers Health Foundation and Blue Ridge Health are extremely pleased to welcome two new physicians - Ann Davis, MD and Kristy Fincher, DO.

“The combined interests and skills of both Dr. Davis and Dr. Fincher are what make them a great fit for our community,” said Dr. Richard Ellin, Foundation Board member and leader in the physician recruitment process. “They both enjoy serving patients of all ages and backgrounds and Dr. Davis’ love for teaching aligns with the Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC) Rural Teaching Program associated with UNC Health Sciences, planned for this health center.” [read more]

UNC Asheville doubles as COVID-19 vaccination clinic; holds vaccine event for students

“The UNC Asheville-MAHEC immunization site has been running since February 19th and we are up over 11,000 vaccinations for our community to this point," said Sarah Broberg, special assistant to the Chancellor for Communication & Marketing at UNC Asheville. "It’s just been such a real opportunity to contribute to the public good."

More than a thousand students are expected to receive their one-dose shot during the latest vaccine clinic. [read more]

'Plenty of supply,' as COVID-19 vaccine focus shifts to demand

The Mountain Area Health Education Center still has close to 10,000 on its vaccination wait list, though 2,500 doses of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine this week will go a long way toward bringing that down, said external communications manager Michelle Morgan.

As with Buncombe County’s waitlist before it was cleared, she said MAHEC continues to see a higher percentage of people reporting that they’ve been able to find their shots elsewhere, "now that there is a much bigger supply of vaccine in WNC...MAHEC will continue to do outreach as long as necessary to make sure every resident of WNC has access to a vaccine," she said. [read more]

MAHEC offering 2-day vaccination clinic event for UNCA students

MAHEC and UNC Asheville have teamed up since February for a weekly 3-day COVID-19 vaccination clinic, and this week it's focusing on UNC Asheville students now that their age group has been given the green light for the vaccine. 

Each Friday, Saturday and Sunday, UNCA’s Reuter Center has doubled as a vaccine clinic for the community -- as long as vaccine supply continues to flow. [read more]


Student Health Ambassadors in Western North Carolina Awarded 2nd Place in COVID Innovation Programing from the National Consortium for Building Healthy Academic Communities

UNC Asheville Student Health Ambassadors, in partnership with ambassador programs at five universities across Western North Carolina and supported by MAHEC, have earned second place from the National Consortium for Building Healthy Academic Communities in a recent competition and will be recognized during a virtual summit April 21-22. The consortium connects health and wellness professionals from academic institutions in pursuit of healthier campuses by sharing best practices and to set national standards. The Student Health Ambassadors have worked throughout the academic year encouraging community expectations during COVID. [read more]

Doctor shortage? Residency programs train physicians who will help meet local needs

Thanks to new programs including an internal medicine and transitional year residencies and fellowships for surgical critical care and consultation-liaison psychiatry, this cohort of 75 marks the largest ever for MAHEC, said Dr. Arthur Ollendorf, director of graduate medical education, or GME.

Over its more than 45 years offering graduate medical education, MAHEC has expanded residency programs and developed new programs in areas of need, he said. [read more]

MAHEC, Mission welcome 75 medical grads to residency and fellowship programs

"This year's Match Day results are remarkable. All of our programs filled including our new internal medicine program," shared Jeff Heck, MD, CEO for MAHEC. "It is unusual for a new program to fill in the first year, especially a large program like this one. Thoughtful planning and preparation under the direction of Dr. Stephanie Call over more than a year enabled us to recruit high quality residents from the start."

The new residency and fellowship programs, along with the many others offered at MAHEC, will combine forward-thinking curriculum and optimal training in the largest Area Health Education Center in North Carolina with training in a busy, tertiary care, state-of-the-art hospital system, where new physicians will benefit from unique rural-based rotations and public health opportunities. [read more]

Area hospitals hiring many of the doctors staying local after leaving Mission Health

News 13 asked Dr. Jeff Heck, CEO of MAHEC, if he's concerned about the doctor departures from Mission.

"No, I'm not troubled. I'll be troubled if they start to leave the region," Heck said.

Whether doctors go to another hospital or start their own practice, as long as they stay in the area, patients shouldn't be affected, he said.

"It hasn't changed their practice at all; it's just who their employer is. So I think that in a sense it is a win-win," he added. "We've kept them in the community; we've kept them training our residents." [read more]

Catamounts Care Ambassadors part of team recognized as force for beating the pandemic

"This ambassador initiative has gained such momentum in large part from the partnerships between all six institutions," said Kol Gold-Leighton, the Back to College Health Ambassador project coordinator at MAHEC. "With leadership, action and support at the administrative and student lead levels, this project has propelled innovation and infused cross-institutional collaboration into the fibers of how students tackle COVID-19 on their campus." [read more]


Talk To Us: COVID Questions

"North Carolina is not requiring any documentation proving that an individual has a condition, " says MAHEC Family Medicine Medical Director, Dr. Lisa Reed. "They're avoiding barriers that may keep eligible people from accessing the vaccine while trusting that others will wait for their spot."

"We also are getting a lot of questions about if people with certain underlying medical conditions should talk to their doctor beforehand," says Dr. Rebecca Putnam, Medical Director of the Acute Care Clinic at MAHEC. "The only contraindication and reason people should not get this vaccine is if they're allergic to this vaccine or one of its components, we know that some people who have immunocompromising conditions or are taking certain medications might have a lower efficacy of the vaccine, but they also are more likely to get severe COVID," says Putnam. "So, I would go ahead and recommend that all patients, especially those with underlying health conditions consider getting the COVID vaccine." [read more]

Updated waitlists show COVID-19 vaccine progress, but with thousands still waiting

The county has cited an estimated 74,000 people may fall into the recently-opened Group 3 in Buncombe, and one organization shouldering some of that load will be the Mountain Area Health Education Center. MAHEC started its vaccinations in partnership with UNC Asheville Feb 20-22, said Michelle Morgan, Director of Marketing and Communications at MAHEC, launching its waitlist about a week before that.

So far, MAHEC had administered 3,233 vaccines, Morgan said, and after this weekend, the planned 1,170 will bring that total to 4,403. [read more]

'Just not there yet' Move to Group 3 vaccines is putting stress on NC health providers

The medical director for Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC) Family Medicine said their clinic at UNCA has 5,000 people to vaccinate before they can move to Group 3.

The MAHEC/UNCA community vaccination clinic was launched in an effort to take some of the weight off the public health care system in administering the vaccine with thousands currently on the waitlist. [read more]

COVID vaccine side effects: From common to rare, how some who received first doses are now

"The data has been extraordinarily favorable, it’s non-equivocal, it’s extremely favorable that it’s an effective and safe vaccine," said Dr. Jeff Heck, CEO of MAHEC. He explains that the vaccine wasn't created overnight and is a safe and effective tool in fighting the virus.

"The latest technology is built on the shoulders of other scientists and people who have developed the vaccines, effective vaccines, over the last 50 years. It’s a miracle actually that researchers were able to produce a safe and effective vaccine that is very specific to the coronavirus," said Dr. Heck. [read more]

What we’ve lost to coronavirus

Had she lived another two weeks, Rita Hulkower would have become eligible to receive the vaccine that could have saved her. Her son, Steve Hulkower, got his first dose the following month. A family physician who heads a department at the Asheville-based Mountain Area Health Education Center, Steve Hulkower felt a rush of relief tinged with sadness.

“That's quite a way to end a life, for people who had meaningful relationships to be basically in lockdown for the last year of their lives,” he said. “To die and to die alone is just a tragedy.” [read more]

Buncombe County senior who pleaded for a shot gets appointment at UNCA vaccination site

Just 24 hours after WLOS profiled a 66-year-old Buncombe County resident with medical conditions who was pleading for a coronavirus shot, clinicians doing a new mass vaccination site called and signed her up.

Donna Thompson said she's extremely grateful and received the call Thursday afternoon letting her know that UNC Asheville's clinic, which has 4,000 people on a waitlist, could accommodate her. [read more]


MAHEC COVID-19 vaccine clinic at UNCA sees successful first full day of operation

Delayed vaccine shipments this week caused most area clinics to postpone or cancel their timelines this week, MAHEC and UNC Asheville's vaccine clinic was up and running Saturday, February 20, for its first full day.

With tens of thousands of people on the Buncombe County vaccine waitlist, MAHEC leaders said this clinic will be vital in speeding up the process of Phase 1b vaccinations.

"Individuals, in particular, are just saying, 'Now I feel safer seeing my family, seeing people that I haven't been able to see before, going forward,'" said Frank Castelblanco, a MAHEC nurse. [read more]

Buncombe, Asheville students, staff part of statewide COVID-19 testing pilot program

Buncombe County Schools students and staff will be included in a statewide pilot program to test students for COVID-19 in schools. The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services has sent thousands of antigen test kits, complete with swabs, to schools across the district. Any student who complains of symptoms will be able to get swabbed and tested for COVID-19 on their school's campus.

"I think especially for our families who have barriers to healthcare access, being able to get a test while their student is at school rather than having to go out for one will be a big advantage," said nurse April Baur, program manager for MAHEC school health program. [read more]

MAHEC, UNCA to offer COVID-19 immunization on university's campus

The Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC) and the University of North Carolina Asheville (UNC Asheville) have joined forces in the global fight against COVID-19. Starting in February and going through May 2021, the partnership between UNC Asheville and MAHEC will operate a COVID-19 immunization site at the UNC Asheville Reuter Center located on 1 Campus View Road in Asheville.

Future dates and hours of operation will be announced in advance and plans will scale over time to allow for 300 vaccines per day up to 1,950 per week as staffing and vaccine allotment allow. [read more]

Antibody therapy comes to WNC COVID-19 patients

The giant, tarp-covered tent staked in the middle of the Mountain Area Health Education Center parking lot looks like something astronauts might set up on the moon. But instead of space suits, the doctors and nurses entering the pressurized, white-domed bubble are wearing head-to-toe personal protective equipment, ready to administer monoclonal antibody infusions to high-risk COVID-19 patients.

Inside the tent, it feels like a “warm and comfortable nurses’ station,” says Dr. Rebecca Bernstein, the physician overseeing MAHEC’s new bamlanivimab infusion program. COVID-19 patients experiencing mild to moderate symptoms enter in waves. A team member explains the process, and a few minutes later, an IV is placed in each patient’s arm, slowly dripping highly targeted coronavirus antibodies into the bloodstream. [read more]

UNC Asheville applies to become COVID-19 vaccination site

UNC Asheville could soon become another vaccine site for the Western North Carolina region. The school system spent thousands to purchase new freezers that can safely store COVID-19 vials. Those freezers were distributed to every UNC institution, except for the UNC School of the Arts and the N.C. School of Science and Math.

UNC Asheville, partnering with MAHEC, just submitted an application to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. [read more]

MAHEC's Center for Healthy Aging

Just one year after launching a home-based primary care (HBPC) pilot, the Center for Healthy Aging at the Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC) and community partners are more than doubling the program's capacity. This expansion is possible thanks to support from the Deerfield Charitable Foundation, WNC Bridge Foundation, and faculty support from UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy and geriatric specialists in the Department of Family Medicine at UNC School of Medicine.

The Center recently received gifts and grants totaling nearly $450,000 to increase its regional impact through capacity building and initiatives that include team-based home visits for up to 125 WNC residents. Current HBPC program participants are MAHEC patients 50 years of age or older at risk of hospitalization or placement in long-term care or who have complex health conditions that make independent living difficult without a higher level of care management. [read more]

AAFP Publishes Opioid Use Disorder Treatment Manual

With the number of opioid-related drug overdose deaths increasing, and with the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to disrupt the lives of millions of Americans, it's essential that family physicians have the resources needed to care for patients with conditions such as opioid use disorder. Toward that end the American Academy of Family Physicians, through an unrestricted grant from Indivior PLC, has created a new guide, Treating Opioid Use Disorder as a Chronic Condition: A Practice Manual for Family Physicians, available for free download to all AAFP members.

"This manual we hope will provide basic information and access to further reading and resources to increase physician comfort level in treating this disease," said Susan McDowell, M.D., a faculty physician and substance use educator at the Mountain Area Health Education Center Family Medicine Residency at Asheville, N.C., and part of the team that provided content and edited the manual. [read more]

In the Rural Race to Distribute COVID Vaccines, a Piecemeal Approach

For the first time in a long time last summer, the Madison County fairgrounds were empty, but last month, cars carrying seniors flocked to the empty fairgrounds once again, this time not in search of blue ribbon accolades and fried food, but to get vaccinated. Cars circled the fairground rodeo arena, moving from station to station -registration, consultation with a provider, followed by a quick jab, and then, finally to a 15-minutes observation station.

That day, roughly 15 volunteers corralled through the Asheville-based Mountain Area Health Education Center vaccinated 250 seniors in what would become the first in a series of drive-thru vaccine clinics in rural Western North Carolina. On that same day, by comparison, Madison County Health Department staff vaccinated roughly 50 residents.[read more]

COVID-19 Stressors Fuel Surge in Overdoses of Contaminated Street Drugs

Blake Fagan, a family physician at Mountain Area Health Education Center in Asheville, oversees the organization’s office-based treatment program for substance use disorders. Between Fagan’s practice and MAHEC’s telehealth and other initiatives, such as the program for pregnant women, the organization treats roughly 500 people with substance use disorders.

In the first stages of the pandemic last spring, Fagan noted, some patients responded to the isolation, job loss and uncertainty by returning to drug use. Following that first wave of coronavirus, some, but not all patients, have stabilized, he added. [read more]

COVID-19 Drives Flexibility in Mental Health Therapy

COVID-19 has brought changes in mental healthcare that, at least temporarily, have improved access to services for people who lack reliable transportation. “It will depend on insurance companies and public officials whether we can make permanent changes for the better,” cautions Dominique Huneycutt, a clinical psychologist at the Mountain Area Health Education Center. [read more]



Fat Bias at the Doctor’s Office Takes a Serious Toll

If you walk into Aimee Feste’s clinic in Asheville, odds are, the word “weight” won’t come up unless you say it. Feste, a body-positive nurse midwife with the Asheville-based Mountain Area Health Education Center, says she first learned about the weight discrimination from her patients.

She might talk to diabetic patients about their stress levels, their sleep, their ability to get medication and access food that nourishes them. That approach may take more conversation, Feste added, but it’s far kinder and respectful to patients who are already ashamed about their bodies. [read more]

Project ECHO Resounds Throughout WNC

Nursing Home COVID-19 Action Network’s training series is just one of eight pandemic-related continuing education series operated by MAHEC using this model. They include screening/treating COVID-19 in primary care; acute care for hospital inpatient; and developing resilience in the healthcare workforce. 

To date, MAHEC has developed 10 different ECHO series: chronic pain management, behavioral health, rural medicine, high-risk prenatal care, geriatric care, oral health, adverse childhood experiences and school health. These workshops have trained more than 8,000 participants from all 16 WNC counties and 96 counties statewide. [read more]

Telehealth Popularity Soars During Pandemic

Before the pandemic, most insurance companies wouldn’t consider paying for online visits, says Shane Lunsford, administrative director of the department of psychiatry at the Asheville-based Mountain Area Health Education Center. If a telehealth visit was covered, both doctor and patient had to be at a licensed medical facility during the virtual appointment. But as it has with so many other aspects of daily life, COVID-19 has reshaped both the industry’s attitude toward telehealth and the way it’s provided. [read more]


WNC Colleges and Universities Partner with Academic Health Center to Combat COVID

Since April, chancellors, presidents, faculty and staff have met virtually with MAHEC leaders and each other to review public health guidance and share best practices, resources, and challenges. The open sharing and mutual encouragement in these weekly meetings and COVID trainings have been a source of emotional support for administrators and faculty stretched thin from the additional demands placed on them by the pandemic. [read more]



MAHEC Opens COVID-19 Antibody Infusion Treatment Tent in Parking Lot

MAHEC has opened the first COVID-19 antibody infusion service in Western North Carolina, in an effort to treat patients diagnosed with COVID-19 who are also high-risk and prevent hospital stays The process takes two hours inside this negative pressurized tent, and the goal is to make the virus less severe. 

"It hopefully will prevent hospitalizations and reduce the load on hospitals that we are currently seeing, and enables people to get care outside of the hospital, early, quick, and safely," Dr. Jeff Heck, CEO of MAHEC, said. [read more]


Mars Hill University Prepares for In-Person Semester Starting Feb. 2

"I’m proud of the way our university community handled the unique and challenging fall semester, and I expect them to come through again this spring,” said MHU President Tony Floyd. “We’re continuing to work with MAHEC and with the other Western North Carolina colleges and universities on our coordinated approach to navigating the pandemic.” [read more]



Western NC College Students Combat COVID

The effort began last spring when COVID-19 outbreaks first hit college campuses. COVID-19 Preparedness for Institutions of Higher Education, a program created by UNC Health Sciences at MAHEC, provided weekly support and live virtual training sessions for 200 administrators, faculty and staff on prevention, testing and tracing, health equity, outbreak, case management, and student wellness.

“It is remarkable to have public and private institutions from all over the region work together with public health professionals to keep their campuses and communities safe,” shares MAHEC CEO Jeffery Heck. “Their diligence has kept thousands of Western North Carolinians and students safe, employed, and able to learn during a very challenging time.”

[read more]

Critical Support Where High Risk Pregnancy Meets Addiction

Even in addiction circles, no group is more stigmatized than pregnant women with substance use disorder. It’s not uncommon to view drug use during pregnancy as child abuse, which is often treated as a crime that is subject to prosecution and jail time by law enforcement. So whenever an expectant woman calls or walks into the clinic to confess her struggles with substance use disorder, Melinda Ramage, Project CARA’s medical director and cofounder, is going to embrace them. [read more]