Read Our Stories
Going Where the Need Is Greatest
Bringing excellent care to underserved corners of North Carolina
As rural hospitals are closing in alarming numbers across the state, people in rural areas are relying more heavily on their primary care providers — a dwindling resource. Fewer up-and-coming physicians are choosing to specialize in primary care.
Travis Williams, a fourth-year medical student at the UNC School of Medicine, is one of those dedicated individuals driven to go where the need is greatest. His path to medicine started somewhat unexpectedly. [continue reading]
UNC Asheville Campus Medical Student Discovers Hope Amidst Crisis
I walked into the room of a dying man. This phrase might conjure up the image of a frail, white-haired patient peacefully nearing the end of life. Alex, however, was thirty—just two years older than me. I was a third-year medical student doing a rotation in the ICU.
This first encounter was sadly inglorious: As my team entered Alex's room, the police officer who'd been guarding him walked out, leaving Alex handcuffed to the bed.
Alex looked like a ghost, his cheeks sunken and lifeless. A heart infection caused by his IV drug use was spewing dangerous bacteria through his bloodstream, infecting his lungs and spine. When not sedated, he was delirious, eyes staring wildly between wasted temples. [continue reading]
Learning How To Heal For Two
Healing the Next Generation by Training This One
The day Becca found out she was pregnant, she panicked. She was actively using and using a lot. She knew she needed help. A friend told her about Project CARA, a perinatal substance use treatment program at MAHEC Ob/ Gyn Specialists in Asheville. Project CARA is one of the few programs of its kind in North Carolina and across the U.S.
In order to ensure that more families can access this life-saving care, UNC Health Sciences at MAHEC is committed training the next generation of healthcare providers including learners from the UNC School of Medicine, UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy, and UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. [continue reading]
MAHEC Interns Dig In to Rural Health with New MPH Program
Interns Join Inaugural Class of UNC Gillings MPH Program in Asheville
Dig In! Yancey Community Garden, tucked away in the western corner of the state, is one fertile example of a small but rapidly growing movement to end food insecurity in one of the most economically distressed regions in the state.
Community initiatives like Dig In!’s are of great interest to public health professionals and students like Kol Gold-Leighton, a recent MAHEC public health intern and student in a new WNC-based master of public health program that is a collaboration between UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, UNC Asheville, and MAHEC. [continue reading]
Twice Bitten and Lot Less Shy
Resident Education Prepares Doctors for any Emergency
Although there was no one in sight, the scream coming from the wooded trail could be heard all the way from the parking lot.
Luckily, it caught the attention of a group of third-year family medicine residents who had gathered by the nature trail behind the Mountain Area Health Education Center.
The residents had just discovered the trail was closed because of a bear sighting, which made the cry for help even more alarming. [continue reading]
Join the Search: Help MAHEC Find the "Missing Millions"
MAHEC Pilots Hepatitis C Clinic at its Family Health Center
When she visited her MAHEC family physician for a routine checkup, Grace had no symptoms and no idea that she was living with Hepatitis C. She never participated in risky behaviors associated with contracting the virus, but she felt the same stigma.
The MAHEC Hepatitis C Clinic was started by Rebecca Grandy, PharmD, and Eric Smith, MD, at the MAHEC Family Health Center at Enka/Candler when they realized the high prevalence of Hepatitis C in the community but a lack of resources to treat it. [continue reading]
Teaming Up for Better Health
MAHEC and Pisgah Legal Work Together to Improve Patients' Lives
Sixty-year-old “James” remembers well the day of his appointment with Dr. Brittany Matney at the Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC). He looked very worried, and she was concerned.
“I told her the bank was about to take my house,” says James.
“Then Dr. Matney said, ‘I’ve got someone you should talk to,’ and Anne Salter at Pisgah Legal called me that very day.”
James is just one of the MAHEC patients now benefiting from a new medical-legal partnership to improve patients’ lives. MAHEC doctors and Pisgah Legal lawyers are teaming up to improve health and address social issues that impact health such as affordable housing, and safety in the home. [continue reading]
Celebrating the Joys (and a few challenges) of Rural Practice
This spring, rural physicians Jay Erickson, MD, from Whitefish, Montana and Hendersonville Family Medicine Residency Program graduate Aaron Beck, MD, spoke to a room full of learners at MAHEC that included medical students, residents, and fellows.
Jay and Aaron both described the joys of being a family physician in a small rural community like being able to practice full-spectrum care, working in an independent practice, and getting to know their patients’ lives beyond the clinic walls. They also answered learners’ questions about how to prepare for rural practice and how to prevent burnout and isolation. [continue reading]
National Medical Society Honors SOM Asheville Campus Director and Third-Year Students
On April 24, 2018, Robyn Latessa, MD, director and assistant dean at the UNC School of Medicine (SOM) Asheville Campus, and four of the program’s students were inducted into membership in Alpha Omega Alpha (AOA) at a ceremony at The Carolina Club at the George Watts Hill Alumni Center at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.
AOA is national medical honor society that recognizes excellence in scholarship, research, service to others, and professional and community leadership. [continue reading]
Asheville Campus Welcomes FIRST Accelerated Medical Student
Rural student sets sights on improving healthcare here in WNC
Bailey Allen is finishing up his first year at the UNC School of Medicine, but he won’t be paying rent in Chapel Hill for much longer.
Bailey is one of three students recently accepted into the School of Medicine’s Fully Integrated Readiness for Service Training (FIRST) Program, an accelerated program that enables students to complete their medical degree in three years followed by placement in an NC family medicine residency program and then three years of post-residency practice in an underserved area of the state.
Born and raised in a small town in eastern North Carolina, Bailey knew exactly where he wanted to complete his medical school education and residency. [continue reading]
MAHEC's ECHO Is Being Heard Around WNC
Last month, a troubled student sat down with a school nurse to talk about what was making it so hard for her to stay calm and stay in class. So hard, in fact, that she often ran out of the classroom without warning and hid until the sound of her crying gave her away.
She wasn't just being evaluated by one nurse, but also by a team of medical experts from the Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC) and more than 20 other nurses from across Western North Carolina who were all considering how to best meet her needs. Thanks to Project ECHO®, a new virtual training model offered by MAHEC, no one had to leave their office to help this student or the thousands of other children in their care. [continue reading]
Nurse Scholars Are Committed To Improving Health Across WNC
Growing up in the rural mountains of Virginia, Kim Iamurri was surrounded by doctors and nurses, but she never thought she’d become one.
“I loved helping people in my massage practice,” she shares, “but I wanted to do more to encourage wellness from the inside out. I found myself spending more time coaching my clients and sharing health prevention tools so they wouldn’t need so much massage in the first place.”
At some point, it dawned on her this is what a nurse does, so she decided to enroll in WCU's highly ranked nursing program [continue reading].
Growing Body of Evidence: MAHEC Expands its Research Capacity
We recently sat down with Research Division Director, Kathy Foley, PhD, to discuss the expansion of MAHEC’s research, library and knowledge services team. Since good research requires asking the right questions, we thought we’d start by posing a few of our own.
Over the past year, your research team has added eight scientists and assistants, and you’ve added a librarian. What has spurred this growth?
MAHEC has received state appropriations to develop an academic health sciences center that can more fully assess and address our region’s rural healthcare needs. We need a robust research team to support our state mandate to improve the health and wellbeing of rural North Carolinians. That’s no small mandate. [continue reading]
MAHEC Partners with Helpmate To Reduce Domestic Violence
If you are a woman between 18 and 65, your next well-woman visit at a MAHEC family health center will include the same screening questions you are used to answering to help your healthcare provider determine if you are at risk for certain illnesses or chronic health conditions.
This year’s well-woman visit will include a few questions you may never have been asked before, questions that can predict whether you have a 70 percent or higher risk for stroke, heart disease and alcohol abuse and a 60 percent higher risk of asthma. Here’s one of them:
“Within the last year, have you been afraid of your partner or ex-partner?” [continue reading]
When Food Is Medicine
After graduation, Kristy Ponce took a job as a certified nurse assistant at a hospital in Florida where she lived. Then she began to notice something curious. She kept seeing the same patients over and over again on the cardiovascular unit where she worked. She realized many of these patients wouldn’t keep coming back if they changed their diet. “Food is medicine,” Kristy shares.
Kristy is one of two registered dietitian nutritionists (RDNs) embedded full time at the Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC) at Biltmore. The other is Fred Stichel, MHS, RDN, LDN. Both support MAHEC patients, faculty, and residents and post-graduate dietetic interns from Western Carolina University. [continue reading]
MAHEC Is Ready for MACRA, and So Are Our Clients
Last week was the deadline for physicians and other eligible professionals to begin collecting data to meet reporting requirements under the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA) or face a potential reduction in future reimbursement.
WNC practices who have been working with MAHEC’s Health Innovation Partners (HIP) team have nothing to worry about. The HIP Team has helped more than 120 WNC practices implement the kinds of quality improvement, data collection and reporting processes that are recognized and reimbursed at higher levels under MACRA. The HIP Team was asked to contribute four case studies for the recently published MACRA Toolkit. [continue reading]
The Pursuit of Passion
Why leave a 15+-year career in engineering to start all over on an entirely new path? To pursue a passion.
“I’ve always been interested in pursuing a medical career, but I just never thought it was possible,” says Marcia Thacher, UNCA student. “Engineering is great, but it’s just one of those things where it wasn’t fulfilling my passion or purpose.”
It’s a feeling many can relate to – being good at something but feeling like your true calling lies elsewhere. Marcia spent the past ten years trying to make her way back to school, but life events, and maybe a little self-doubt, kept getting in the way. Luckily, mentors, family, and her husband continued to push her to follow her dream.
A few years ago, Marcia set the self-doubt to the side and took the plunge back into school. This summer, she took part in the UNCA internship at MAHEC. [continue reading]
MAHEC Says Goodbye to a Trailblazer in Women's Health
Susan Meade always longed to live at the beach. There was just one problem. She worked at UNC Hospital in Chapel Hill, and she married a man who wanted to live in the mountains. Make that two problems.
They decided to compromise by moving to Asheville first and then the beach. That was 1977. Fast forward 40 years, and Wilmington’s loss has been Western North Carolina’s gain.
“Susan is a pioneer in team-based care,” shares Dr. Beth Buys, Ob/Gyn Division Director. “She has always worked collaboratively with physicians and physician assistants to ensure patients have the support they need to get well and stay well.”
In fact, she has taught hundreds of providers how to practice collaborative care, even presenting on this team-based model at an American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) annual conference.
On September 1, 2017, Susan will retire from a career dedicated to advancing women’s health, with the last 25 years spent right here at MAHEC Ob/Gyn Specialists, a teaching practice she helped build. [continue reading]
Miracle Babies: A Surprise Pregnancy Became Double the Risk, but Double the Joy
This last year has been quite a shock for Bonnie and her husband, Jeremy. In fact, they had several increasingly larger shocks in a row. First, they discovered they were pregnant with their second child. Three weeks later, they learned it would be twins. Fast forward another three weeks and they discover the babies are not just twins, they’re mono-mono (Monoamniotic) twins - the highest risk type of twin pregnancy with a 50-50 chance of live birth for both twins.
“We just had a lot to process because we wanted to get excited about the pregnancy, but there was a also a lot of fear,” says Bonnie. “It was a pretty scary situation.” [continue reading]
You Don't Have to be a Doctor to Save Someone's Life
Violet was the only one nearby at a family cook-out when her 4-year-old ‘adopted’ grandson, Caleb, went from running and jumping to being frozen in place with panic in his eyes. Violet ran to him and quickly realized he was not able to breathe.
As part of the Department of Library and Knowledge Services at MAHEC, Violet does not provide hands-on clinical care. However, she attended a Basic Life Support (BLS) course at MAHEC earlier in the year, along with many other office-based staff that were interested in learning the basic skills of life support. She had no idea at the time just how important a role that class would play in her life. [continue reading]
Once a nurse, always a nurse
Once a nurse, always a nurse. At least that’s how it’s worked for Barbara. She started her nursing career at age 16 as what was then called a “Nursing Assistant” at Mission St. Joseph’s Hospital. Eventually she retired from MAHEC Ob/Gyn Specialists in 2013, but she still has her LPN license.
Having worked her whole life as a nurse, it wasn’t easy to step away. It was about a year before she came back to MAHEC as a volunteer. Every
Tuesday from 8-12, Barbara can be found gliding from patient to patient in the waiting room. She checks in with how they’re doing, takes the time to listen, provides reassurance, and sometimes just sits with those who need someone by their side.
“We don’t know where that patient’s been when they walk through that door,” she says. “I hope they get the feeling that they’re important, that they’re not taken for granted, and that we’re glad they’re here.”
There’s something special about Barbara. It’s not uncommon for a patient to tell her something they may not be comfortable sharing with even their doctor. She always makes sure to pass on anything the doctor may need to know in order for the patient to get the best care possible. And it’s happened more than once that she’s recognized as having been someone’s nurse from back when she was working. She leaves that kind of impression on people. Perhaps it’s the way she tries to think of others.
“There’s something good about everybody,” she says. “You might have to look a little bit, but you’ll find it.”
Needless to say, you don’t have to look very far with Barbara.
Saving a family India arrived for her scheduled cesarean section feeling some normal pre-surgery jitters as she had experienced a minor hemorrhage with her previous child, but could never imagine the severity in store for her this time around. She lost 6.5 liters of blood – her entire blood volume. MAHEC cares for the highest risk OB patients and helped initiate and put in place an OB hemorrhage protocol at Mission Hospital to care for patients just like India. Dr. Bre Bolivar, Ob/Gyn Hospitalist on faculty at MAHEC Ob/Gyn Specialists, is on the OB Hemorrhage Team and was well-prepared for India when she arrived.
“When there’s a severe hemorrhage like this, you really need a team-based approach,” says Dr. Bolivar. “Everybody needs to be on the same page on how to take care of these patients. I was really happy that it all went the way it was planned and the protocol worked the way it should have.”
And no one is happier that Dr. Bolivar heard the calling to medicine than India and her family. She feels like she found a family in the team that kept her alive and will never forget it. “I think about it every day,” she says. “I thank God every day that I’m alive and can see these kids.”
MAHEC intern on path to healthcare
During his summer internship with MAHEC, UNC Asheville senior Alex Green learned about the impact a great health professional can have on a community—not just by providing care, but also by displaying leadership. “While in May, I really thought I’m going to be a dentist and nothing else, now [after this internship], I’m thinking I’m going to be a dentist who has his hand in, always trying to affect the community, to give back in a way that’s greater than just practicing medicine.” Green was so inspired at MAHEC that he continued his work for credit at UNCA this past fall, speaking to high school students about the importance of returning to rural communities when they are first contemplating career paths and encouraging them to follow in his footsteps.
Women’s Health embraces Centering Pregnancy®
Imagine a room filled with expectant mothers and fathers seated in a circle talking about their pregnancy, learning about nutrition or preterm labor, asking questions of each other and their doctor. This is an empowering model for prenatal care called Centering Pregnancy® that combines prenatal assessments with peer support and education. Women learn about their changing bodies, and families form lasting relationships as they face one of the most transformative experiences of their lives: pregnancy. Amanda Murphy, CNM, is MAHEC’s Centering Pregnancy® Coordinator and Director. “The group has such a deep knowledge base, deeper than any of them realize,” Murphy says. “So when I’m sitting in group, and I hear mothers talking to other mothers about what they are experiencing and what they have found helps or doesn’t, that’s what it’s all about.”
MAHEC residents practice full-scope medicine
When asked to describe MAHEC, first-year family medicine resident Margarette Shegog, MD, likens the organization to a patchwork quilt. “MAHEC is lots of different pieces, colors, textures, and fabrics that come together to make this beautiful creation that also keeps you warm,” Dr. Shegog says. “It’s an environment supportive of experience outside medical knowledge,” she says. Before entering into medical school in Ohio, Dr. Shegog already had been a Peace Corps Volunteer in Namibia and southern Africa, where she firsthand saw the devastation of HIV in rural villages. She then continued on to travel India as an America-India Service Corps Fellow.
"Without her, we wouldn't have this baby," said Kat. "She gave me my miracle baby."
Kat and John wanted a baby, but with three traumatic miscarriages they had nearly given up hope. Kat was referred to MAHEC’s Women’s Health Team and on the day of her first prenatal visit Kat thought she was having another miscarriage. John told her to go to MAHEC instead of the emergency room.
“It was nerve wracking and I was terrified to death. I thought I was miscarrying, but she [Dr. Warren] told me it was okay,” Kat said. “She is the first one who took the time to talk with me. She was always patient and understanding. Dr. Warren helped me get through and everyone can’t believe I did it.”
“It is really special to be able to go to a doctor like that,” said John. “They know how to explain things. They are caring. We’re really glad to go somewhere they show so much care, because it’s special to us to have this baby. The care there is extraordinary.”
"This is the place to be if you want to gain, not just medical knowledge, but also valuable life experience," said Chan.
Yu Kwan Chan, MD, Family Medicine Resident, starting a ‘Walk with a Doc’ community project
In choosing my training program, I wanted a place teemed with scientific minds and confident, yet humble and loving attitudes that I can be influenced by. I have certainly found such people in this place that I have grown to love and enjoy.
This spring I will start a ‘Walk With a Doc’ effort to meet patients outside the walls of clinical healthcare. The goal is to use the outdoor environment as a gateway to conversations about health, while participating in a low-impact exercise program. My vision is to share time with patients without the confines of the office environment to walk and talk about managing chronic disease, smoking cessation, or weight loss.”
"I think it's incredibly valuable as we train to provide full spectrum medical care, to know the community and understand its needs..."
Liza Young, MD, Family Medicine Resident, providing women's healthcare at a methadone clinic
"During college, I became interested in medicine by volunteering at a HIV/AIDS nursing home. I was fascinated in the ways in which the disease affected the patients' physical, mental, emotional, and social well being. I have carried this interest in caring for a community with me throughout medical school and residency.
That is how I became involved with the project at local methadone clinics. I’ve really enjoyed being able to get out of the MAHEC clinic and be more involved with the community. Meeting the women at the methadone clinic has been invaluable. We were planning to provide women with contraception, but we quickly realized there was so much more we could provide. Now we are helping them access basic women’s healthcare, like pap smears and mammograms, that they otherwise might not get.”