News Archives

Media articles from January - April 2020

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]