MAHEC in the News
Media articles in 2021
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.”
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]