News Archives

Media articles from 2019

Top Threats to WNC Health at the End of 2019

Dr. Jeff Heck, CEO of Mountain Area Health Education Center, shared his take on threats to health in this area, remarking, “Ironically, what makes Western North Carolina so desirable — the beauty of our predominantly rural region — also makes us vulnerable to a variety of challenges that are part of a national rural health crisis.”

Those challenges translate into five major concerns, Heck explains. Learn what they are and how UNC Health Sciences at MAHEC is working to address them. [read full story]

Partnership Goes Beyond Healthcare

Bruce Hoebel's debilitating health problems took a toll on his wallet while waiting months for disability to kick in. "By this time, all finances was gone," recalled the 54-year-old. "Any money I saved was gone."

"I think we are recognizing more and more, especially in a family medicine clinic, that people have needs outside the medical treatments or interventions that we have," explained Dr. Zach Wright, a family medicine physician at MAHEC. Wright listens in more ways than one, pointing patients to social and legal services. [see full story]

The Secret of Saving the Lives of Black Mothers and Babies

In the mountains of North Carolina, black women are fighting a national health care crisis by helping each other have healthier pregnancies.

Bianca Davidson was 17 and still in foster care when she got pregnant. The baby arrived a month-and-a-half early. She hemorrhaged after delivering her second son. Her third pregnancy, three years later, required an emergency caesarean section. Davidson was afraid the next time she gave birth, either she or her baby would not survive. She had good reason to be afraid. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, black women across the country are 320 percent more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women.

This time Davidsdon's doctor offered her a service that wasn’t available 12 years ago: a doula through a program run by and for black women who are employees of the Mountain Area Health Education Center and provide free support to high-risk, low-income mothers like Davidson. [read full story on Politico]

Collaborative Community Effort Tackles Rising Health Inequities

“Around the world, infant mortality rates are seen as a key measure of how healthy a community is,” Hannah Legerton of MAHEC told the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners. “Our black infant mortality rate has babies in Buncombe County are four times as likely to die before their first birthday as white babies.”

Buncombe County was one of six locations selected to participate in CityMatCH’s fourth cohort in a nationwide program that promotes shared learning among public health departments, community organizations, academic researchers and other experts to identify the best strategies for eliminating racial infant mortality disparities.

CityMatCH partners include YWCA Asheville, to serve pregnant and parenting teenage mothers), Buncombe County's Nurse Family Partnership, ABIPA, Pisgah Legal Services, and MAHEC. [read full story]

988: FCC Approves 3-Digit Suicide Hotline Number

Mental health professionals support the FCC moving forward with a three-digit national suicide prevention hotline. In a unanimous vote, the FCC is moving forward to designate a new, nationwide three-digit number for a suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline.

Mental health advocates like Josh Schactman, behavioral healh provider at MAHEC, sees it as a good move. “We don't always have the best access to our cognitive faculties when we're in crisis, so having a shorter number will make it easier for people to remember and be able to contact that crisis line,” Schactman said. [see full story]

WNC Labor And Delivery Closures Leave A Gap In Women’s Healthcare 

Last week, the doors closed on Erlanger Western Carolina Hospital’s Labor and Delivery Unit in Murphy. The closure is part of a national trend of labor and delivery units closing. Western North Carolina has certainly felt it says Dr. Bryan Hodge. “With Erlanger closing in the past 5 years we have had 6 labor decks close,” says Hodge.  

Hodge is director of Rural Health Initiatives at the Mountain Area Health Education Center or MAHEC. The regional organization recruits and trains medical practitioners to rural areas. Hodge is concerned about what the closure means for Western North Carolina. [listen to full story]

In the Face of an Opioid Epidemic, Make a Safer Home for Your Family During the Holidays

This is the time of year when many of us travel, reconnect, and exchange gifts with those we love most. It is also the time when we help take care of family concerns: Grandma’s eyesight is getting worse, our favorite aunt has food in her fridge more than two years out of date, the old family home is in need of some serious repairs. One concern that often goes unaddressed is what’s in the medicine cabinet or the kitchen cupboard. 

Removing and properly disposing of dangerous medications makes homes safer for those who live in them and their guests. When we remove these medications, we make it less likely that our loved ones will ingest a mistaken prescription, and we lessen the risk for accidental poisoning and overdose. This year, when you go home for the holidays, we encourage you to give your family the gift of a safer home—yours and theirs. [Read opinion on USA Today]

Flu Season Arrives in WNC, But It's Not Too Late to Get a Shot

North Carolina state health officials reported Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019, that a fifth person has died from the flu. So far, four out of the five people who have died were age 65 or older.

At MAHEC, one doctor said he's only diagnosed children with the flu this season. "This year, it looks like more dangerous for older folks, but also hitting younger people more," Dr. Shuchin Shukla said. The state's weekly flu report shows a gradual increase in cases since reporting began in October."I was looking at the data, and December and early January is when it was really getting bad," Shukla said. [see full story]

Recruiting the Next Generation of Rural Physicians

"The best clinicians in a rural environment are much like a Swiss army knife," shares Bryan Hodge, DO, MAHEC's director of Rural Health Initiatives. "A Swiss army knife is not going to be the ideal knife in certain situations, but it has the ability to get people through. It's certainly the knife you're going to want if you're in a camping situation where there could be a variety of different challenges that you face at any time."

Rural physicians are the keystones of their communities' healthcare and provide a range of care. The problem is, there are too few of them -- and that shortage is only going to get worse. An article in the New England Journal of Medicine predicts that by 2030, the number of practicing rural physicians will fall by almost a quarter. [see full story]

They Took My Kid: Rural Docs Help Moms Fight Addiction

MedPage Today explores programs at a rural center in North Carolina focused on improving both prenatal care and substance abuse treatment by bringing both types of care under one roof.

"One of the other challenges pregnant women with opioid use disorder face in a rural setting is certainly access to medication-assisted treatment," shares MAHEC's Melinda Ramage, FNP.

"They can see a provider like myself, who is buprenorphine-waivered to prescribe medication assisted treatment, to get their obstetrical care and medication-assisted treatment in the same visit. They don't have to go to another clinic to access that or individual sessions with our counselor or attend our groups. That's a gamechanger." [see full story]

Local Agencies Present Update on Battle Against Opioid Addiction and Overdose

Lynette Oliver stood in front of a tall black panel in the banquet hall of the U.S. Cellular Center on Oct. 28. Dozens of small fabric squares hung from two lengths of ribbon draped across the panel, reminiscent of Tibetan prayer flags. “I’m looking for my son,” the petite woman said aloud as she scanned both rows. “I found him.” On June 18, 2018, Oliver discovered Michael dead at 36 of an overdose, leaving his son without a father two days shy of his 11th birthday. 

Oliver and over 100 other members of the community attended Let’s Talk Opioids, a community update and conversation on opioid crisis response in Buncombe County. It was standing room only as in-the-trenches experts presented information, including the Mountain Area Health Education Center. [read full story]

WNC Tackles An "Unaddressed Public Health Crisis"

Educators, mental health professionals, and law enforcement are gathering in Asheville this weekend to tackle an unaddressed public health crisis. Blue Ridge Public Radio talked with one of the conference organizers who is helping shine the spotlight on the issue here in WNC. A landmark study found that the more adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) a person experienced, the higher their risk of problems in adulthood - everything from drug abuse to depression to diabetes.  

“The original study showed that two out of three people have at least one ACE – it’s pretty common and it’s been labeled a public health crisis,” says Mary Lynn Barrett LCSW, MPH, a behavioral health specialist at the Mountain Area Health Education Center who has dedicated much of her career to ACE awareness. [listen to full story]

A Mountain Doctor's Office Adds Pharmacist to the Team

Pharmacist Evan Drake isn't behind a counter asking questions. Instead, she learns during a consultation with Dorothy Blair, at Foothills Medical Associates in Columbus, that a lot of medication isn't working for the 75-year-old. Evan is a MAHEC rural fellow and graduate of MAHEC's second-year ambulatory care residency program. Her residency and rural fellowship have helped prepare her to establish an innovative clinical pharmacy practice working alongside rural healthcare providers to improve the quality and cost of care. [see full story]

Let's Talk Opioids: Update on Buncombe County's Opioid Response Efforts

On Oct. 28, Buncombe County, the City of Asheville, MAHEC, and Vaya Health hosted a community conversation about opioids at the US Cellular Center. The town-hall style event opened with a presentation on the current state of the opioid crisis in Buncombe County delivered by UNC Health Sciences at MAHEC Chief Education Officer Blake Fagan, MD, and Buncombe County's Amy Upham, MPH.

The presentation was followed by updates on local opioid response efforts shared by Buncombe County Health Director Jan Shepard; Asheville Fire Department Chief Scott Burnette; MAHEC's Melinda Ramage, FNP; NC Department of Justice's Holly Jones, MPH; and Vaya Health's Ellen Stroud. Community members had an opportunity to learn more about local resources focused on prevention, treatment, harm reduction, and recovery. [see news coverage on WLOS and WYFF]

Statewide Symposium Spotlights Narrative Healthcare

When Laura Hope-Gill first proposed a narrative health care program for Lenoir-Rhyne University back in 2015, the assistant professor of writing received anything but a warm welcome. Fast forward to 2019, and Hope-Gill tells a different story.

The field is set to gain local visibility thanks to North Carolina’s upcoming first statewide symposium on narrative healthcare to be held at MAHEC. The keynote speaker is Dr. Rita Charon, who founded the narrative medicine program at Columbia University. Other presenters will include Dr. Jeff Heck, MAHEC’s CEO, who strives to impress the importance of narrative on the healthcare providers who train with his organization. "Good physicians are very interested in understanding patients.” [read full story]

MAHEC To Host ACEs Southeastern Summit 2019

Ariel Shumaker- Hammond, MPH, LCSW, director of MAHEC's Perinatal Mental Health Program, and Frank Castelblanco, DPN, director of the Department of Continuing Professional Development, explain the importance of understanding adverse childhood events, also known as ACEs, and their lifelong health impacts.

MAHEC is hosting the upcoming ACEs Southeastern Summit on
Nov. 1-3 in Asheville that features national and regional leaders working in the fields of trauma and adverse childhood experiences. This year’s summit will help participants develop practical tools, skills, and strategies to take back to their schools, organizations, and communities to reduce the intergenerational transmission of trauma and improve resilience. [see full story]

Imbed Awarded $1.5 Million NIH Grant to Fight Biofilms in Wounds

The National Institutes of Health has awarded Imbed Biosciences a
$1.5 million two-year grant to support research to develop a bio-resorbable wound dressing that can kill bacteria hiding in biofilms in wounds. Biofilms are bacterial communities that are resistant to treatment and can delay the healing of chronic wounds for several months.

“There are no effective therapeutic options available to completely remove biofilms from wounds," explains Dr. Michael Schurr, Imbed cofounder and director of MAHEC's General Surgery Residency Program. The hope is that a new wound dressing made with silver and gallium metal ions will kill these bacteria without damaging the skin cells that are involved in the healing process. [read full story]

WNC Doctors Say Flu Season's Started Earlier Than Normal

Doctors in the mountains confirm there's flu cases already being reported in Buncombe and Henderson County. "Usually we’re starting to vaccinate in October, and we don’t really start seeing flu until winter," said Dr. Daniel Frayne, president of the Mountain Area Health Education Center. 

"Sometimes you see a few cases and then you don’t see anything for awhile, so it’s a little bit too soon to tell," said Dr. Frayne. Regardless, doctors say the best thing you can do is get your flu shot now. Even though it's still September, it's not too early. "The flu vaccine each season is effective for the entire season no matter how long it lasts," said Frayne. "Getting it later doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re protected longer." [see full story]

News 13 Investigates: Racial Disparity Among Those in Need of Transplants

Right now, more than 3,000 North Carolinians are waiting for the one thing that could save their lives - a kidney transplant. News 13 has learned that most of the people on that list are minorities. Data from LifeShare Carolinas shows that 35 percent of all patients in the U.S. waiting for kidneys are African-American. In North Carolina, it's nearly double the national rate at 60 percent.

In Asheville, MAHEC president Dr. Daniel Frayne sheds light on the reason behind the racial disparity. "It's not about genetics. That's the key concept. Certainly, socio-economic status plays a big role," Frayne said, and things like toxic stress, access to doctors, and education all factor in. "We have a gap that is persistent and, in some cases, actually worsening between particularly black and white," Frayne said. [see full story]

Two Buncombe County People Suffer Consequences of Latest Smoking Craze

The first cases of what's being called vaping-associated illness have been confirmed in Buncombe County. State health officials said there are 33 cases in North Carolina, and most of those people had to be hospitalized. What's causing the vape-related illness remains a mystery that could be far from being solved.

"It's one thing to say what chemicals are in the vaping solutions when they're aerosolized and get into your lungs," Dr. Lisa Reed, a family physician at MAHEC said. "We just have to wait longer to find out which of the many chemicals that are in these is going to be the one that causes a different chronic health problem," Reed said. "People who are waiting to see what long-term consequences might be, it might take years."  [see full story]

Telehealth Delivers Crucial Rural Access to Care

As medical providers across Western North Carolina work to expand access, especially in rural communities where it’s notoriously lacking, telehealth has emerged as a promising new solution for patients in areas that lack local resources. An estimated 7 million patients in the United States will use telemedicine services this year, and demand will continue to rise. 

“As we become more digital in our daily lives, it makes more sense, from a provider’s perspective, to interact with folks in that realm,” says Shane Lunsford, practice manager at the MAHEC Center for Psychiatry and Mental Wellness. “This is a way to make access to healthcare happen and treat patients’ conditions before they have to go to the emergency room or call 911” [read full story].

ARHS Discusses $90 Million Plans for Hospital Campus in Watuaga

ARHS President and CEO Chuck Mantooth discussed plans for the future of ARHS that have been made with the aging population in mind. Improvements include a new bed tower adjacent to the emergency department, surgery suites, and a new cardiovascular center.

Phase two would include a continuity clinic with a new family medicine primary care residency program that is set to launch in July 2020. The residency program would be run in partnership with the Mountain Area Health Education Center in Asheville, with four to six residents brought in each year for a three-year family medicine residency. [read full story].

Addicted NC: New Ways To Keep Teens from Addiction

Several mountain counties are now relying on students to spread the word about the dangers of opioids.

MAHEC School Health Program Manager April Baur, RN, and RHA Prevention Specialist Heather Daniels help lead the Partnership for Substance Free Youth in Buncombe County.

"We've learned scare tactics don't work, they don't respond well to those, so we really focus on education and then sort of action steps," Baur said. "They really want the facts, and they want it to be presented to them the same way they would any other topic and then from there they can make the decision. I think it's empowering for them to make the decision themselves," Baur said. [see full story]