News Archives

Media articles from 2020

Returning to Workout After COVID-19? Not So Fast

Aaron Vaughan, who heads Mountain Area Health Education Center’s sports medicine program in Asheville, says patients with pre-existing conditions should talk to their doctor before returning to exercise. Healthy adults can begin to exercise roughly two weeks after their symptoms subside.

Vaughan advises patients to increase the intensity of their exercise every five to seven days, and only advance to the next stage if their heart and lungs can tolerate it. [read more]

WNC Schools to Receive Thousands of Antigen Tests, Begin On-Campus Testing in January

Anyone who becomes symptomatic at school while on campus will be administered the antigen, or rapid test, by a school nurse. The test is done by using a quick nasal swab. Those results usually come back in about 15 minutes.

“If we have a positive result, that would allow the school nurse to go ahead and begin case investigation,” said April Bauer, school health program manager for MAHEC. "All of our school nurses have been trained through communicable disease and are already doing case investigation for all school-related positive cases."

Bauer said if the test is negative, the student or employee would still be asked to leave school because of showing symptoms, but would need to go to a healthcare provider or community testing site for a PCR test instead. [read more]

How UNC Asheville Continues to Thrive During COVID

Throughout the semester, Student Health Ambassadors – a program across 6 higher education institutions in WNC, with the expertise of MAHEC, and supported by the COVID-19 prevention grant from the N.C. Policy Collaboratory at UNC-Chapel Hill – led the way, offering support to students, sharing best practices, and creatively engaging the campus in knowledge-based strategies to stay healthy and safe.

By the end of the semester, Student Health Ambassadors amassed 1,798 in-person and virtual support station hours at UNC Asheville (and that’s just from 45 of the 93 students hired in the role across WNC). Overall, the program shares knowledge with 22,000 combined students, faculty and staff. [read more]

Warren Wilson College Ends Fall Semester with No On-Campus Cases of COVID-19

Five Warren Wilson students served as Student Health Ambassadors through a program with the Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC) and other regional colleges. They completed rigorous COVID-19 training and supported the community by planning wellness programming, distributing information, supporting students who were feeling anxious or in quarantine, and facilitating a pen pal program with students from other colleges.

Partway through the semester, also in partnership with MAHEC, Warren Wilson began offering regular testing to student athletes. Last week, in conjunction with a program sponsored by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services and the North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities, the college began offering students and employees the opportunity to have an antigen COVID test before leaving campus for Winter Break. [read more]

New Partnership 'A Huge Public Service'

UNC Adams School of Dentistry partnered with Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC) to establish the Rural Oral Health Scholars program, a curriculum for dental students who are interested in practicing in rural areas of the state.

MAHEC welcomed the first cohort of scholars from the Adams School of Dentistry this fall.

“These UNC dentistry students have chosen to learn with us in Western North Carolina because it aligns their education with their future plans to bring care to rural communities, and rural care is a primary focus here at MAHEC,” said Jeff Heck, M.D., CEO of MAHEC. “Our first cohort of students are loving their first weeks here, and so are our patients.” [read more]

Asheville Campus Associate Professor Champions for Older Adults in Western North Carolina,

Western North Carolina is "older, sicker and poorer" than state and national averages. And it also lacks a center of excellence to comprehensively address the clinical and social challenges that older adults face in the region, said Tasha Woodall, Pharm.D.

"If we don't step in to fill this void and help our older adults age according to their wishes, then who will?" Woodall said. Woodall is an associate professor of clinical education at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy's Asheville Campus, and Associate Director of Pharmacotherapy for Geriatrics at the Mountain Area Health Education Center. [read more]

Next-Generation Wound Dressing Microlyte® Matrix Heals a Majority of Chronic Wounds in a First Published Prospective Clinical Study

Imbed Biosciences, Inc., a privately held biotech company emerging as a leader in advanced wound care, announced the results of a first prospective clinical evaluation of its next-generation wound dressing, Microlyte® Matrix, in complex chronic wounds. "It is very encouraging to get such promising outcomes in deteriorating and stagnant wounds by switching to Microlyte® Matrix as the primary antimicrobial dressing," said Michael Schurr, MD, a co-founder of Imbed and Chair of General Surgery at Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC) in Asheville, NC. [read more]

Returning to Work after COVID-19, Do I Need a Negative Test?

Returning to work after a positive COVID-19 diagnosis can be tricky for some, especially if your workplace requires a negative test. "Once you're positive, you're positive. Your test may stay positive up to 90 days. So, we actually in our clinic won't test you if you already had a positive test in the last 90 days," said Dr. Rebecca Putnam, MAHEC Acute Care Clinic Director. Putnam pointed out a positive test does not mean you're still contagious, so you shouldn't need a negative test to return to work as long as you're following public health guidelines. [read more]

Buncombe County Schools, Asheville City Schools Launch New COVID-19 Dashboard

Buncombe County Schools announced that an online COVID-19 report will be provided for both BCS as well as Asheville City Schools and any other school in the county wanting to participate. Buncombe County Health and Human Services will assist in building the weekly report in partnership with the school systems, and MAHEC School Nurses will provide and update the data in the online database. [read more]



How long does loss of senses of smell and taste because of coronavirus last?

One of the symptoms of COVID-19 is losing the senses of taste and smell. WLOS reached out to MAHEC's Acute Care Clinic, which is providing drive-up COVID-19 testing. Dr. Rebecca Putnam explained how long it may take a person to regain their sense of smell and taste. "They can happen independently of each other, and they can last for a really long time. So, I'm seeing some patients who if they experience that they're only losing their sense for a few days and others who are losing it for several months," Putnam said. [read more]


How Coronavirus Changed our Health Behaviors

The pandemic has also spurred some renewed interest in more conventional preventative measures as well, with more people getting vaccinated for the flu this year, experts said. "It seems like everyone who has ever in the past has been OK with getting the flu shot, they're all coming this year to do that," said Lisa Reed, family physician at the Asheville-based Mountain Area Health and Education Center. Alongside that demand, clinics across the state, including the one at MAHEC, have tried to make it easier to actually get the shot this year. [read more]


Not All Heroes Wear Capes—Some Simply Wear Masks and Stay Six Feet Apart

During the COVID-19 era, UNC Asheville's new Student Health Ambassador Program is using proactive and peer-to-peer reinforcement to instill a strong culture of wellness on campus.

The N.C. Center for Health and Wellness (NCCHW) at UNC Asheville leads the project's research and evaluation components while collaborating with UNC Asheville faculty from the University’s Applied Social Science program and the Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC). The project also has added support from other members of the UNC Asheville faculty and staff, affiliates of the university and undergraduate researchers from health and wellness, sociology, political science, economics and statistics sectors of UNC Asheville. [read more]

MAHEC Boone Rural Family Medicine Residency Program Comes to the High Country

In an ongoing effort to improve access to care, Appalachian Regional Healthcare System (ARHS) recently partnered with Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC) to establish MAHEC Boone Rural Family Medicine Residency Program. For medical students specializing in primary care, Boone is now an option to complete their three-year residency program.

Dr. Molly Benedum, M.D., director of the program, says, "We want to instill in our residents the same values that align with MAHEC's mission, which include going into a community and meeting its unique needs." [read more]

MAHEC Pursues Equity with Leading Healthcare Organizations

MAHEC has joined forces with the Institute for Healthcare Improvement and other leading healthcare organizations to improve health equity. The IHI Pursing Equity Learning and Action Network aims to reduce health inequities by implementing comprehensive strategies to create and sustain equitable health systems.

Pursuing Equity network participants are selected based on their commitment to making health equity a strategic priority. MAHEC is one of only three healthcare organizations in North Carolina selected for this learning collaborative and one of only 24 across the U.S., Canada, and New Zealand. [read more]

Honoring Heroes, Helping Businesses

Mountain Area Health Education wanted to honor their healthcare heroes who have been working tirelessly to support patients, employees and Western North Carolina during this unprecedented health crisis.
To honor their commitment, over 600 MAHEC employees were given a $200 gift card that can be redeemed at restaurants, markets, retail shops, and personal service providers that have been impacted by the economic shutdown associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
MAHEC partnered with the Asheville Chamber of Commerce to identify a broad range of local businesses with an emphasis on those owned by women and Black, Indigenous, and People of Color with the goal of making the greatest impact on our community during this challenging time. [read more]

UNC Asheville Leads Critical COVID-19 Efforts at State, National Levels

UNC Asheville partnered with Dr. Jeff Heck, CEO & President of MAHEC, to convene a groundbreaking partnership among the region's six higher education institutions to research and adopt the latest virus mitigation health protocols and policies on each campus.
"Our overarching goal is to demonstrate the resilience of higher education as a sector in American life," said UNC Asheville Chancellor Nancy J. Cable. "With 22,000 combined students, faculty and staff, across the six residential higher education institutions in the region, our partnership is one-of-one across the state. We have been working closely and collaboratively for months to research and adopt the latest medical, health and safety protocols and policies for virus mitigation on each campus and therefore for the region." [read more]

COVID-19 Stresses Buncombe Opioid Response

Kevin Mahoney, peer support specialist for the Mountain Area Health Education Center, hears stories from the MAHEC medication-assisted treatment patients he helps with mental and behavioral wellness. Whether he talks with them by phone or in person (behind two layers of masks and gloves), those clients are sharing the strains that coronavirus-induced isolation and job loss have placed on their efforts to stay clean. "We've got an [opioid] epidemic within a pandemic," he says. [read more]


Caring for the Most Stigmatized Population

Project CARA is both a clinic and a network of resources and the only OB safety net provider for the western region. Providers with the program see about 200 patients each year who are, on average, white, 26 years old, and in their second or third pregnancy. In addition to routine OB-GYN care, the women receive access to services such as Hepatitis C screening, counseling, peer support programs and even legal services. [read more]


Safety in the dentist's chair

While many physicians are now seeing patients online or in their cars, dentists must see people in person, in the office, in order to do their work, explains Natalie Raper, administrative director of MAHEC Dental Health. The practice's two clinics (in Asheville and Columbus), are both fully open, though they are seeing fewer patients - 40-45 a day, versus 45-60 before the pandemic - because they're cleaning more thoroughly after each patient and changing into fresh gowns, gloves, masks and face shields. [read more]


Rural Providers Get Creative with Mental Health Outreach Post-COVID

When coronavirus transformed North Carolina's telehealth billing in early spring, Kevin Mahoney began checking in with most of his 200 clients via video and phone. But the Asheville-based peer support specialist soon discovered that telehealth left some of his clients behind.
Mahoney, who works at the Mountain Area Health Education Center, supports people seeking recovery from drug and alcohol use. But it can be a challenge. Often, his homeless clients don't have a working phone and some of his rural clients live in areas with spotty cell reception and little to no internet access. [read more]

'Owl In This Together': Warren Wilson Releases Plans for Fall Semester

Warren Wilson College has released an extensive plan to both open and remain open for its upcoming fall semester. President Lynn Morton said that she understands the difficulties of returning to school during a pandemic.
"This requires a level of flexibility that some people have never really experienced before," Morton said. "People, just by nature, they want certainty, they want to know 'what happens if this,' 'what happens if that.' We're going to have to make our decisions as best we can with the support of our county health department and [MAHEC]." [read more]


New Program Helps Unemployed, Underemployed People in Western North Carolina

A program to help the unemployed and underemployed find sustainable, living-wage jobs has launched in Asheville. Tony Shivers is a caseworker at the SPARC Foundation, where he helps about 10-15 people, many of whom have been in prison. Partners include the Asheville Housing Authority, MAHEC, SPARC, A-B Tech and the Mountain Area Workforce Development Board, to name a few. [read more]



First Group of Dental Assistants Graduates from ICC

The dental assisting program takes place at the Polk Center in Columbus and at the MAHEC Dental facility on the nearby St. Luke's Hospital campus. Dental assisting is a great career choice that pays well and has great stability and demand. The program only takes one year to complete.
Dental assisting involves helping a dentist in skilled four-handed dentistry and graduates find employment in various types of dental offices. [read more]


First Cohort Graduates from UNC MPH Program in Asheville

The UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health’s Master of Public Health (MPH) Program in Asheville awarded degrees to its first cohort this spring. The inaugural graduates, whose degree in public health leadership focused on leadership in practice, will be specially equipped to make an impact in Western North Carolina.

“The MPH in Asheville team is delighted to have supported the program’s first cohort with the guidance and support of the Gillings School’s Public Health Leadership Program,” said Amy Lanou, PhD, program codirector. “This group of intelligent, collaborative and engaged individuals demonstrated incredible resilience as we built the program with their input and weathered enormous challenges over the last two years." [read full story]

FORE Provides Grants for 6 Recovery Support Initiatives Amid Pandemic

The Foundation for Opioid Response Efforts (FORE) announced on Thursday that it is providing grants to six organizations to fund initiatives to respond to the increased risks faced by individuals with opioid use disorder during COVID-19.

UNC Health Sciences at MAHEC, which received funds to work on projects that improve access to care prior to the pandemic, will use their additional funds to enhance engagement with community health centers across the state in MOUD education and provider training. [read more]


HCH Plans New Clinic for Highlands

A new health clinic is coming soon to Highlands, Highlands-Cashiers Hospital CEO Tom Neal announced. Neal said the new healthcare educational clinic on the hospital campus will bring additional healthcare service the Highlands-Cashiers community. 

“The clinic will include one physician and will also include a residency program with Mountain Area Health Education Center,” he said. “This is very exciting and we anticipate the clinic starting up next year.” [read full story]

Tip of the Iceberg: What’s WNC’s True Rate of COVID-19?

The labs have been busy these days: Both locally and across the state, viral tests are confirming ever more cases of COVID-19. But beneath those lab-confirmed cases likely lurks a much larger group of people who have contracted the virus without ever knowing it. 

As it becomes increasingly clear that COVID-19 will be with North Carolina for the long haul, more formal antibody testing efforts are gearing up throughout the state. Locally, according to Connor with NCDHHS, the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health has proposed an antibody study with Asheville-based MAHEC to be conducted in Buncombe and Henderson counties. [read full story]

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]

Mountain AHEC: Saving Mothers & Babies in Western North Carolina

Every Wednesday morning, Ob/Gyn Suzanne Dixon makes a 70-mile drive west along mountainous roads that spiral in a dizzying loop, often with precipitous drops on one side. Her destination? Franklin, a tiny town of about 30,000 in Macon County. Her mission? To deliver pre- and post-natal care to women who otherwise would do without.

With appointments scheduled back-to-back, Dixon immediately starts seeing patients, many of whom have also traveled up to an hour.
[read full story]

Safe Kids WNC Program Joins MAHEC

Mission Health and Mountain Area Health Education Center today announced that effective April 27, Safe Kids WNC is transitioning to become a program of MAHEC.

Safe Kids WNC will continue to focus on the prevention of childhood injury and partner with Mission Health to address top priorities including the proper installation of child safety seats, child safety education, ATV safety, poison, choking, fire, burn and falls prevention, bicycle safety, and water safety. Safe Kids WNC will also continue to provide injury prevention education services across the region. [read more]

How Many COVID-19 Tests Are Available in Buncombe County, WNC?

When Mountain Area Health Education Center reached out to 112 providers across the mountains, only 42.9% said they were testing for COVID-19. When asked if they had enough testing supplies and protective gear to get through the next few weeks, the number varied.

"Many of them will have enough supplies to get them through the next two weeks, but as you look four weeks down the line, that number drops to around 40%,” said Dr. Bryan Hodge, MAHEC's director of rural health initiatives. [see full story]


Coronavirus: Five Takeaways this Week on Buncombe's COVID-19 Response

Health, emergency management and elected officials spoke on a wide range of topics pertaining to the respiratory illness caused by novel coronavirus, its impact on the region and the ways Buncombe has responded. 

County officials shared the need for additional means to track community spread in the absence of sufficient COVID-19 testing supplies. One approach being developed in partnership with MAHEC and other community partners is an online symptom checker that links individuals to appropriate care, when indicated. [read full story]

Hundreds of Cases of COVID-19 in WNC Challenge Healthcare Systems

MAHEC is surveying hundreds of medical providers across Western North Carolina and providing a picture of how supplies are holding up on the front lines.

According to its most recent survey data, COVID-19 is putting a tremendous strain on healthcare practices and providers throughout the region. A number of practices, health departments and hospitals are stressed; many have reduced their hours and services. [read full story]


Med Students Are Producing PPE for Rural Clinics in North Carolina

As coronavirus cases in North Carolina climbed to nearly 6,000, some rural health clinics in the state were armed with PPE thanks to local volunteers and medical students like Kacey Scott.

Scott had just begun clinical rotations for her third year at UNC Chapel Hill medical school when projections of the coronavirus started hitting the South. With her rotations canceled, she quickly turned her focus to the rural clinics in the western part of the state and discovered they did not have enough PPE to be prepared. [see Vice News story]

Behavioral Health Professionals Embracing Telehealth as Patients Social Distance

Psychiatry and behavioral health faculty share how MAHEC is helping patients access mental health support during COVID-19 using innovative approaches such as telehealth, virtual group visits, and telephone-based counseling.

"This is not only a COVID-19 crisis, it’s also a mental health crisis. We’re seeing unprecedented numbers of folks experiencing mental health issues. We are trying to think outside the box and find new ways to engage people to help keep them out of the emergency room,” explains program administrator Shane Lunsford. [listen to podcast]

Asheville Leaders Confront Disparate Rates of Sickness Among Black Communities

In North Carolina, Black people make up 22% of the population, but as of April 14, black North Carolinians made up 38% of the state's COVID-19 cases and deaths. States and cities around the United States have reported comparable race-based disparities.

“We recognize that when we get into unprecedented and unique times, that our community is one of the first to fall through the cracks,” said Felica Hipp, the director of nursing operations at Mountain Area Health Education Center and a moderator on the radio panel. [read full story]

COVID-19 in Western NC: This is Just the Tip of the Iceberg

If you ask Bryan Hodge about the number of diagnosed coronavirus cases in western North Carolina, he can rattle off the number in each of 16 counties. Dr. Hodge is director of MAHEC’s Rural Health Initiative and tasked with leading the rapid response for the pandemic.

Getting one’s arms around this pandemic is an enormous challenge even under optimal circumstances. In a region where too many poor, unwell and uninsured people are paired with too few health care resources and providers, the task seems particularly daunting. [read full story]

This is Public Health: A Call for Equity in the Time of COVID-19

Before COVID-19, you might not have spent much time thinking about public health. You might not have known what those two words mean when used together: public and health. Unfortunately, we are all learning the hard way what a public health crisis looks like.

Public health professionals in Buncombe County, across the state, at the CDC and other federal organizations, and the WHO have all worked tirelessly  to help us track the spread of COVID-19. [read opinion]

Fighting Addiction During a Pandemic

Staying inside has become the new normal for millions of Americans across the country, creating a new set of challenges for those fighting addiction.

“It’s such a stressful time right now,” explains Dr. Thomas Campbell, a third-year psychiatry resident at MAHEC. He says a common element of addiction is isolation. Doctors typically encourage those struggling to connect with others. [see full story]


PPE & Patient Shortage: WNC Medical Practices Facing Coronavirus Financial Crisis

Along with restaurants, hotels and many small businesses–physician practices in Western North Carolina are feeling the financial crunch from the coronavirus. A MAHEC survey of 100 primary care practices finds many are being hit hard by both the shortage of supplies and patients.  

BPR’s Helen Chickering spoke with MAHEC CEO Dr. Jeff Heck last Friday, April 3, as the preliminary results were coming in from the first seventy-five practices. The survey was conducted by MAHEC furloughed medical students. [listen to full story]

WNC Experts Weigh in on Racial Disparity in COVID-19 Cases

Buncombe County health officials are shedding light on concerning demographic statistics of COVID-19 patients. “COVID-19 is infecting and killing black Americans at a disproportionally high rate,” Buncombe County Medical Director Dr. Mullendore said. She said the public health crisis is highlighting structural inequities that exist as a result of racism.

“African-Americans are more likely to be uninsured and underinsured. They may have more challenges accessing healthcare,” MAHEC Director of Nursing Operations Felicia Hipp said. [see full story]

Let's Talk About COVID-19

This virtual town hall brought together community leaders to discuss the steps we can take to flatten curve for health disparities that exacerbate the serious impacts of COVID-19 on communities of color.

MAHEC's Director of Nursing Felicia Hipp, RN, shares how underlying health conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, can make African Americans more vulnerable, and why prevention is key for reducing their risk. Town hall participants share a variety of community resources and strategies for supporting our families during the coronavirus pandemic. [listen to town hall]

Initiative Aims to Connect Patients to Addiction Treatment by Building Better Networks

As coronavirus tears through North Carolina, upending nearly every aspect of life, some experts are focusing on another ongoing crisis that has gotten less attention in recent weeks: opioid overdoses.

A collaboration between University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine and Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC) aims to help people with substance use disorders find the care they need with an eye for making a dent in North Carolina’s opioid deaths in the long run. [read full story]


Can COVID-19 Enter Your Body Through a Cut?

News 13 reached out to MAHEC's drive-up respiratory clinic for an answer. The family nurse practitioner said even though it may be possible for someone to get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object, it's extremely unlikely the virus could infect you through a cut.

“The virus typically enters the body through our mucus membranes, eyes, nose and mouth,” said Carriedelle Fusco, FNP at MAHEC. Fusco reminds everyone that social distancing and good hand hygiene are always good protection. [see full story]

UNC Medical Students, & Volunteers Work Together to Curtail COVID’S Spread

People in the Asheville community and at UNC Asheville are working together as volunteers to fabricate and donate PPE to healthcare providers in WNC to help protect against spread of COVID-19.

Protective face shields produced by this effort are now in use on the pediatrics floor at Mission Hospital in Asheville. Additional and more varied kinds of PPE being produced in this town/gown collaborative will soon reach farther around the region thanks to a team of UNC School of Medicine students whose clinical rotations in Asheville have been curtailed by the virus. [read full story]


MAHEC, ARHS Announce Inaugural Class of Medical Residents

The third Friday of each March is known as Match Day in the medical school community. This year, Appalachian Regional Healthcare System was a part of Match Day as they prepare to welcome the inaugural class of medical residents to the new MAHEC Boone Rural Family Medicine Residency Program in June.

“We are enormously excited to welcome the first class of residents whom we are especially pleased are all from North Carolina. Their interest in our program indicates their strong commitment to spending their careers meeting the primary healthcare needs of communities across the state," shared director Molly Benedum, MD. [read full story]

Can COVID-19 be transferred from gloves to food or gloves to money?

News 13 reached out to the physicians at MAHEC to find out the answer this viewer question. They tell News 13 that there's no evidence that coronavirus is passed on through food, so people shouldn’t be frightened to get food delivered or get take out.

The CDC has cautioned it may be possible to get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object, which is why it's so important to wash your hands frequently and avoid touching your face, MAHEC's Dr. Blake Fagan reminds us. [see full story]

MAHEC Receives $1 Million to Expand Treatment Capacity for Opioid Use Disorder in NC

This month, Asheville-based UNC Health Sciences at MAHEC received more than $1 million to expand access to treatment for opioid use disorder through the development of two regional addiction medicine hubs and office-based opioid treatment services at community-based health centers across North Carolina.

This two-year grant is a collaboration between MAHEC and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine that will improve access to lifesaving care particularly for underserved and vulnerable populations. [read full story]


Are Electronic Media Harming Children’s Health?

Ever since televisions first entered our homes, parents have grappled with the question of how much screen time is best for their children. While screen time can be educational, too much of it can impede child development and invite a range of serious health issues.

Nicole Evans, a doctor of osteopathic medicine at MAHEC Family Health Center, cites two studies of the same group of 2,441 children in Calgary, Canada, that found significant developmental differences at ages 3 and 5 among those who used electronics for varying amounts of time.[read full story]


The Doctor Gap: A Training Program for Country Docs

In the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina, a large percentage of rural residents struggle with poverty and limited access to healthcare. In Avery County, you'll find only one primary care physician for every 2,920 residents. In stark contrast, the national average is one primary care physician per 1,330 people.

In desperate need for doctors with a heart for rural medicine, MAHEC teamed up with Appalachian Regional Healthcare System and Watauga Medical Center in Boone, N.C., to build a family medicine residency program from scratch.
[read full story]

How to Cope with Threat of Coronavirus

There are so many layers to the coronavirus story and one layer that is largely being ignored -- the fear some people feel.

"We're getting inundated in all spheres, you know. We could be walking down the street and see somebody wearing a mask and then that's an automatic trigger that kind of strikes our own fear response and triggers our fight or flight response," Valerie Krall, director of Behavioral Medicine at MAHEC, said. Krall is aware of how many people are reacting to COVID-19. [see full story]


Local Center Gives Medical Students Hands-On Experience

MAHEC is more than a place for people to get treatment. It is also an academic teaching center for aspiring doctors.

Donna Frazier received two-for-one care at Mountain Area Health Education Center in Asheville. "You get an experienced clinician, and you also get someone who has recently trained and has all the latest science," said Dr. Lisa Reed, of MAHEC Family Medicine.

It paid off with a medical student's discovery. [see full story]

In Rural WNC, Induced Births Are On The Rise

The closure of several labor and delivery units at hospitals across Western North Carolina means more mothers and their doctors are planning births differently.

Dr. Suzanne Dixon has been an ob/gyn with MAHEC for about 8 years. Most of the time she works in Asheville, but she spends 2 days a week in Franklin at Mission Women’s Care. Dixon says that since Angel Medical Center closed it’s labor and delivery unit in 2017, the other ob/gyns in her practice had to leave. 

About 80 percent of Dixon’s patients now schedule when they will be induced into labor instead of waiting for a natural birth. [listen to full story]

When a Rural Maternity Unit Closes, Alternatives Are Hard to Come By

Since 2013, at least nine maternity units across the state have closed and a 10th is slated to shutter in the coming months. Addressing this growing crisis requires a systems approach, providers in western and eastern North Carolina say.

Suzanne Dixon has been caring for patients in Macon County since early 2018. Dixon, an ob/gyn with the Mountain Area Health Education Center, travels to Franklin once a week and sees women on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Even with a full schedule of 20-25 patients a day and surgeries every other week, Dixon says her work can’t fully address the needs of the community. [read full story]

Embodied: The Long Drive To Safe Birth in NC

Host Anita Rao tackles the maternal health crisis in North Carolina in this installment of Embodied on The State of Things. Anita speaks with Lilly Knoepp of Blue Ridge Public Radio who shares her reporting on rural maternal health in Western North Carolina where only one birthing center remains open in the region west of Asheville.

Lilly shares excerpts from her conversation with MAHEC's Suzanne Dixon, MD, who travels to Franklin, NC, two days a week to provide ob/gyn care for patients in the wake of recent labor and delivery unit closures in the region. [listen to full story]

Drugs, Dollars and Docs: Records Show, Asheville Doctors Accept Thousands from Big Pharma

A law called the Physician Payments Sunshine Act requires all pharmaceutical and medical companies to report any payments made to licensed doctors. Payments from pharmaceutical leaders to medical providers are legal according to guidelines from the American Medical Association.

Courtenay Wilson, PharmD, is the associate director of Pharmacotherapy at MAHEC. She says according to the guidelines, doctors can accept money and even gifts from drugmakers with a few stipulations. [see full story]


Spotlight Carolina: MAHEC Simulation Center

On Sunday, WLOS TV-13's Spotlight Carolina host Mark Keady sat down with medical director Paul Rodgers, MD, and Jeffrey LaSalle, RN-BC, to discuss how MAHEC's innovative approach to medical education improves provider's skills and patient care.

MAHEC’s Simulation Center allows medical professionals and students to learn life-saving procedures without putting real patients at risk. Dr. Rodgers and Jeffrey share how state-of-the-art simulation technology is used to create customized learning scenarios to help providers hone their skills in a variety of healthcare procedures and emergency situations. [see full story]

Spirit of MLK Awards Celebration Honors Diversity Leaders at MAHEC

On Wednesday, January 22, 2020, more than 250 employees and community members gathered at the Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC) to honor the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Since 2001, MAHEC has hosted a Spirit of MLK awards celebration and luncheon to recognize faculty, staff, and learners who embody the qualities of an emerging leader, the spirit of MLK, and whose lifetime work demonstrates a commitment to advancing social justice for communities of color. [read full story]

Local Woman with Hepatitis C Breathes a Sigh of Relief

Laurie Sykes is now breathing a sigh of relief, unlike a few months ago when, following a routine blood test, she was diagnosed with Hepatitis C -- a viral infection that attacks the liver. So, how do people get it?

"It's only through blood exposure: transfusions, surgeries, transplants," replied Dr. Shuchin Shukla, a MAHEC family medicine physician. Sykes has learned at Mountain Area Health Education Center that medication in the form of a pill is now 95 percent effective curing Hep. C. [see full story]


Madison County Launches MAT Program to Combat Opioid Addiction

A new decade does not always come with a clean slate. A patient’s symptoms don’t disappear on New Year’s Day, and public health advocates continue to face challenges from years past long after the ball drops in Times Square.

Doctors Marianna Daly and Blake Fagan of MAHEC know this. Both share a common experience – losing a patient to overdose – that has them motivated to find solutions for those struggling with addition. When Fagan, a MAHEC family physician for over 20 years, began offering training in medication-assisted treatment, Daly was quick to jump on board. [read full story]