MAHEC in the News

Media articles since May 2020

Virus, Floyd Death Merge in Brutal Blow to Black Well-Being

Doctors have known it for a long time, well before the resounding cries of “Black Lives Matter”: Black people suffer disproportionately. Then came COVID-19 and George Floyd — one killing Black people in alarming numbers, the other shining a harsh light on systemic racism. 

Royanna Williams, 45, is a Black woman in Asheville, North Carolina, who suffers with persistent pain from autoimmune illnesses, which disproportionately affect Blacks. Living with chronic illness had already left her anxious and depressed — feelings that have multiplied with the pandemic, Floyd’s death and the unrest that has followed. [read full story]

Buncombe Health Board Declares Racism a Public Health Crisis

A decision by Buncombe County Health and Human Service to declare racism a public health crisis last Friday followed substantial consideration of persistent inequities in local health outcomes and occurred as the United States reckons with systemic prejudices in many areas.

Frank Castelblanco, chair of the BCHHS board, said in a statement that "structural racism is one of the most pressing public health issues here in Buncombe County and across the nation, and it exacerbates every other public health issue."
[read full story]

Buncombe Officials Address Racism as a Public Health Crisis

Buncombe County officials on Monday took a step toward more equal treatment for people of color. And the COVID-19 pandemic was part of the driving force. In a unanimous vote, the Health and Human Services Board acknowledged there's a better way to care for the disenfranchised.

"We're shifting power, and we're changing practices," said board chairman Frank Castelblanco, DNP, director of continuing professional devlopment at MAHEC. In Buncombe County, Latinx residents make up 26 percent of those testing positive, but they represent less than 7 percent of the population. [see full story]

Geriatric Pharmacy Residency Program Receives ASHP Accreditation

The Geriatric Pharmacy Residency Program, a collaboration between MAHEC and the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy, is now accredited by the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists. The purpose of this Western NC-based program is to prepare geriatric pharmacotherapy specialists who have mastered the skills necessary to care for the aging population.

“The US population is aging rapidly, while the workforce trained to provide healthcare for older adults struggles to keep up. This is especially true in WNC, where the proportion of residents 65 and older exceeds the national average,” said Tasha Woodall, PharmD, residency program director at MAHEC. [read more]

Partnership to Expand Care in Highlands-Cashiers, Grant Supports Doulas for Social Justice

A new joint effort of the Highlands Cashiers Health Foundation, Blue Ridge Health and the Mountain Area Health Education Center seeks to provide universal access to health care for residents and workers in the Highlands-Cashiers area.

MAHEC also received a $40,560 grant from the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina in support of the SistasCaring4Sistas doula program. The money will support a full-time doula for the program, which works to eliminate racial disparities in maternal health outcomes and infant mortality. [read more]

 

UNC Asheville to Open Campus for Fall Semester, Outlines COVID-19 Precautions

Students will return to a brick and mortar learning environment when UNC Asheville begins its fall session Aug. 10. UNCA officials made the announcement with a plan outlining its COVID-19 precautions.

The reopening decision and protocols were made with advice from regional partners including MAHEC. UNC partnered with Dr. Jeff Heck, CEO of MAHEC, to convene the six WNC residential higher education institutions "to research and adopt the latest medical, health and safety protocols and policies for virus mitigation on each campus and the region. [see full story]

UNCA Gets $610,000 to Fight COVID-19

The UNC Board of Governors is giving UNC Asheville $610,000 to help fight COVID-19. UNCA will partner with MAHEC on numerous aspects of the project which includes three specific components:

⁠A health ambassador program to establish a culture of safety on six WNC campuses; research on a social bridging project that connects older adults with trained wellness volunteers and community resources; and a statewide study of comorbidity for individuals who have died from COVID-19 that is conducted in partnership with UNC Health Sciences at MAHEC. [see full story]

UNC Board of Governors Awards $610K to UNCA COVID-19 Efforts

The UNC Board of Governors announced that the University of North Carolina Asheville will receive $610,000 in funding, through its recently announced partnership with the N.C. Policy Collaboratory at UNC-Chapel Hill, to help fight COVID-19.

UNCA Chancellor Cable identified three COVID-related studies, in partnership with other western campuses and MAHEC, that will provide critical data on the impact of COVID-19 in the region and the state as well as a goal to reduce risks and rates of infection. [read more]

Partnership Aims to Increase Primary Care Access for Two WNC Counties

A new partnership is aiming to increase access to primary care doctors for those in Macon and Jackson counties. Highlands Cashiers Health Foundation is partnering with Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC) and Blue Ridge Health to fund a new medical practice.

It includes a rural teaching program similar to those in Asheville and Hendersonville, which offers physicians incentives to choose rural communities, giving residents better access to healthcare. [see full story]
 

New Community Clinic Slated for Physician-Starved Rural Mountain Region

Access to health care in the Plateau, a rural mountainous region of Western North Carolina, may be significantly improved by the beginning of 2021 with the opening of a new community health center serving Jackson, Macon and Transylvania counties. The Plateau region has struggled for decades to recruit a sufficient number of medical professionals to serve its tens of thousands of residents.

The new facility is being planned through a partnership involving Blue Ridge Community Health Services, MAHEC, and the Highland Cashiers Health Foundation. [read full story]

Expanded Programs Support Behavioral Health Issues During Pandemic

Long before the COVID-19 pandemic arrived, people with mental health issues often faced difficulties getting the help they needed. But with walk-in clinics and other mental health facilities shuttered to slow the spread of the new coronavirus, many people are reporting higher levels of stress and anxiety.

Federal funding, however, will help two Western North Carolina agencies expand mental health services. The timing of MAHEC's $4 million two-year award couldn’t be better. The money will enable the agency to hire about 45 new people to provide therapy, manage care and create a crisis team. [read full story]

Teletherapy in the Age of COVID-19

Maudeb Maybin suffers from PTSD and uses a wheelchair because of cerebral palsy. Part of his overall maintenance plan includes seeing a therapist to help him cope with his depression issues. But just traveling to and from his appointment can take hours. The coronavirus pandemic has changed all that.

“Once the whole stay-at-home order thing took hold, they said, ‘Let’s see if this works’ and that’s how we ended up here,” he said. “Here” is a regimen that has Maybin seeing his MAHEC therapist online once a week. [read full story]

Gillings Alumna Mims Named MAHEC Chair of Community and Public Health

MAHEC recently welcomed Susan Mims, MD, MPH, to chair the newly established Department of Community and Public Health at UNC Health Sciences at MAHEC.

Mims will provide strategic leadership for the Asheville-based Master of Public Health program. The program is affiliated with the UNC-Chapel Hill Gillings School of Global Public Health and UNC-Asheville. Mims will work closely with Director of Academic Affairs Amy Lanou, PhD, and program faculty to train future public health leaders across Western North Carolina in innovative models of public health delivery. [read more]

Students Team with MAHEC for HR Pro Bono Consulting Project

MAHEC recently hosted 12 students from Western Carolina University’s Master of Science in Human Resources Program for a mutually beneficial collaboration.

The students served as pro bono consultants — working virtually to maintain social distance protocols — to create innovative plans to address several MAHEC needs and goals, including developing more progressive role descriptions and creating a high-level of engagement to attract and retain top talent.
[read more]
 

Safe Riding, Not Freewheeling

It’s a rite of passage, learning to ride a bike – the mobility, the freedom, the wind in your hair. Most of us remember when we first learned to ride a bike. Cycling has changed quite a bit since our youth, so we asked local experts to weigh in on the most up-to-date safety protocols parents can teach and model for their kids.

Gearing up with a correctly fitted a bicycle helmet is crucial. “All children should wear a properly fitted helmet,” Beverly Hopps, Injury Prevention Specialist with Safe Kids WNC-Mountain Area Health Education Center, said. “It is the best way to reduce head injuries and death. Proper helmet use can reduce head injuries by more than 50 percent.”  [read full story]

Pandemic Causes Immunization Rates to Dip

Fear of being exposed to the coronavirus is contributing to parents skipping well child visits and their vaccinations. Public health and infectious disease experts worry that this decline could endanger the 93 to 95 percent vaccination rate necessary for herd immunity against diseases such as measles, mumps and whooping cough.

Dr. Lisa Reed, a family practice physician at the MAHEC Family Health Center in Asheville, describes the coronavirus as “an explosion at the heart of everything that happens in medicine” when nearly all patient care was put on hold. “For about a month, we had a really big decline in all wellness visits” [read full story]

What Do Temperature Checks Accomplish?

As more businesses resume operations, they could be asking to check your temperature as one of several COVID-19 safety precautions. MAHEC’s Respiratory Clinic Family Nurse Practitioner Carriedelle Fusco agrees taking someone's temperature only gives you a snap-shot of someone's current condition and said it shouldn't be the only safety precaution taken.

“We're battling this virus in a lot of ways. Wearing the cloth mask in public, taking people's temperatures, encouraging people to stay home if they're ill, testing and expanding the testing guidelines ,” said Fusco [see full story].

MAHEC Awarded $40,560 for SistasCaring4Sistas Doula Program

The Community Foundation of Western North Carolina (CFWNC) recently approved a $40,560 early childhood development grant to MAHEC for the SistasCaring4Sistas community-based doulas program. The Dogwood Charitable Endowment Fund partnered with CFWNC to fund this grant.

The disparity in infant mortality between black and white babies in Buncombe County is significant: four black infants die for every one white infant — higher than state and national averages. SistasCaring4Sistas Community Based Doulas’ mission is to eradicate disparities in maternal and infant mortality by providing high-quality pre and postnatal support to families of color [read more]

Dr. Jeffrey Viar Named 2020 Rural Health Practitioner of the Year

Jeffrey Viar, DO, has been named 2020 Rural Health Practitioner of the Year by the National Rural Health Association. This is the first time a practitioner in North Carolina has won this national award.

A champion for education, Viar partnered with MAHEC to bring a family medicine residency program to Foothills Medical Associates, inspiring the next generation of providers to stay in their rural community. He was instrumental in the launch of an innovative approach to provide additional access to care for patients by launching a rural pharmacy fellowship in partnership with MAHEC. [read full story]

Your Smile On Camera: WNC Dental Program Turns To Teledentistry During Coronavirus Pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic has prompted some dentists to break into the new frontier of teledentistry – including MAHEC. In mid-March, the American Dental Association recommended practices restrict patients to emergency cases.  

“You know, a lot of patients right now don't want to come into the clinic even if they are in pain," says Natalie Raper, MAHEC’S dental practice administrator. Now they can "talk to the dentist on-call first via teledentistry before we decide if it is necessary for them to come in.”  [listen to full story]

 

COVID Breathes Life into North Carolina’s Rural Telehealth, but Broadband Remains an Obstacle

The coronavirus pandemic has forced providers to see many of their patients virtually. In rural North Carolina, where the broadband infrastructure is lacking, that transition can be challenging.

In March and April, dozens of Western North Carolina providers were suddenly thrust into the telehealth world. This largely rural region of the state had few telemedicine options outside of cities, said Bryan Hodge, director of rural health initiatives at MAHEC, which has been offering telehealth training and support to some of those providers. [read full story]

From Mouth Models To Nasal Swabs: WNC Team Goes 3D To Help Flatten Coronavirus Curve

What happens when a medical student and a dental resident harness 3D technology to help flatten the coronavirus curve in North Carolina? 

Like most dentist offices across North Carolina, the dental clinic at MAHEC is slower these days, with dental residents limited to treating emergency cases. But the 3D printer at MAHEC’s Asheville office has been repurposed and is working nonstop to produce COVID-19 testing swabs. 

UNC medical student and former MAHEC medical librarian Kacey Scott was in search of a 3D printer to make PPE and reached out to MAHEC's dental practice administrator Natalie Raper. [listen to full story]

Rural Students Complete Project PROMISE Health Careers Internship

Emilee Slagle and Caleb McKinney, of Mitchell High School, and Kyler Glover, of Mountain Heritage High School, completed a semester-long Project PROMISE internship as part of MAHEC's Rural Health Initiative to train future healthcare professionals to improve health in Western North Carolina. 

Each year, rural WNC high school students participate in medical workshops, shadow with healthcare providers at the regional hospital, public health department, and medical and dental practices while earning school credit through the Careers and Technical Education Program. [read full story]

For Expectant Parents, COVID-19 Brings Changes, Uncertainty

Brittany Lackey’s joy over finding out she was pregnant — and then discovering she was having triplet girls — was overshadowed quickly as the new coronavirus began to spread.

Some hospitals are allowing only the woman in labor and hospital staff to be there, although most are allowing one other person, says Dr. Arthur Ollendorff, an obstetrician practicing at MAHEC Ob/Gyn Specialists. “It’s scary,” Ollendorff says. “There’s so much we don’t know... We need to be nine months out before we know for certain whether there are effects,” he says. [read full story]

Think You Have COVID-19? Buncombe Now Has Symptom Self-Checker

Developed in coordination with the Mountain Area Health Education Center and NC State University epidemiologist Dr. Jennifer Runkle, Buncombe's online "self-checker" aims to offer guidance and resources to those who may be experiencing symptoms of the illness caused by novel coronavirus and gather de-identified data for health officials hoping to develop a better understanding of the pandemic's impact on the county.

The tool will connect those who need it to testing, contact tracing and MAHEC healthcare providers. [read full story]