2018 in review: 10 WNC health and wellness topics that mattered

MOTHER LOVE: Project CARA enables pregnant mothers with substance abuse disorders to access a variety of health care and community-based services. Some practitioners in the program include, from left, Marie Gannon and Melinda Ramage of MAHEC; Tammy Cody of Mission Hospital’s Perinatal Substance Use Project; Angelique Ward of Vaya Health; and Denise Weegar of Women’s Recovery Center. Photo courtesy of MAHEC

From the big business of hospitals to the still small voice within, health and wellness covers a lot of territory in our individual lives and the life of our community. This year’s wellness stories frequently spilled over into the pages of other sections in Xpress.

  1. Mission merger dominates: The proposed acquisition of Mission Health by for-profit HCA Healthcare of Nashville is 2018’s biggest health and wellness story, hands down. If it goes through, the deal will result in as-yet-unknown changes for the region’s largest health care provider and create the $1.5 billion Dogwood Health Trust to receive the profits of the sale. City and county government officials didn’t hesitate to begin planning what they would do with millions in new property taxes generated by the potential change from nonprofit to for-profit status of the region’s largest employer.
  2. Addiction crisis continues: As in other communities across the United States, the crisis of opioid addiction and overdose continued to damage and end lives in Western North Carolina. On Aug. 8, Xpress ran a story about Buncombe County’s consideration of the pros and cons of operating a needle exchange to reduce the harms associated with addiction. That story highlighted similar programs run by the Needle Exchange Program of Asheville (in conjunction with the WNC AIDS Project) and The Steady Collective.

    The same day our story appeared in print, the city of Asheville informed The Steady Collective that its twice-weekly operation of a needle exchange out of Firestorm Books and Coffee on Haywood Road in West Asheville violated zoning ordinances. The exchange continues to operate, but its future is uncertain. 

    Other Xpress stories explored how alternative therapies for pain might reduce addiction risk, how Mountain Area Health Education Center’s Project CARA provides holistic and compassionate maternity care for pregnant women with substance abuse disorders and how an exhibit showcasing the work of artists in recovery promoted healing and expression.
  3. Access to health care debated: While health care options abound in our region, gaining access to needed preventive services and treatment can be tricky, especially for vulnerable populations, those without health insurance and rural residents.

    In January, we reported on a community debate that included voices advocating for free health care for all alongside those who support market-based approaches. At the end of the year, we provided information about obtaining 2019 coverage under the Affordable Care Act in advance of the Dec. 15 deadline. In between, we looked at health services provided by local nonprofits to people experiencing homelessness and MAHEC’s efforts to expand dental care options in rural areas.With a federal judge having ruled the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional shortly before press time, 2019 seems sure to see continued uncertainty, confusion and concern regarding access to care.
  4. The #MeToo movement: Early in 2018, local organizations serving victims of sexual violence and harassment saw a large increase in demand for their services, a trend many of those organizations’ leaders attributed to awareness generated by the global #MeToo movement.

    Asheville grappled with allegations of sexual misconduct in its arts community as women came forward with claims of harassment against a prominent local artist. WNC women voiced concerns about sexist photos and comments shared by a local gym owner on social media in January, prompting our look at the area’s coed and single-sex fitness facilities.

    A major grant announced by the Women for Women Giving Circle of the Community Foundation of WNC will pump $450,000 into communitywide efforts to prevent domestic violence over the next three years.

  5. Caring for kids: With the opening of the Caiyalynn Burrell Child Crisis Center in Asheville, the region added a critical resource for protecting the mental and physical health of its youths. We also looked at the services provided to children in foster care by the Under One Sky Foundation. Parents and experts weighed in on sex education provided by local school districts.
  6. CBD explosion: Our area saw huge growth in the number of retailers selling CBD products, which contain extracts from hemp, the nonpsychoactive cousin of the cannabis plant. While the science has yet to catch up with the buzz, CBD’s boosters claim it offers many health and wellness benefits. Local growers are hoping the crop will offer a lucrative new way to cash in on the craze.
  7. Hospitals vie for market share: The Mission/HCA sale isn’t the only hospital-related news we covered this year. Park Ridge Health announced in August that it will change its name to AdventHealth Hendersonville on Jan. 2. Park Ridge received an A safety grade from The Leapfrog Group’s Fall 2018 Hospital Safety Grade, as did Harris Regional Hospital in Sylva and Haywood Regional Medical Center in Clyde.The Charles George VA Medical Center celebrated its centennial in October and opened its new Hope and Recovery Center focused on suicide prevention.Offering an alternative to hospital emergency rooms and other on-demand care settings, many new urgent care centers opened in the region, with more on the way in the new year.
  8. Eating right: From superfoods to plant-based diets and from salt to fat to sweeteners, who among us doesn’t relish a heaping helping of dietary advice? We all have to eat, so dishing up local perspectives on the healthiest ways to fuel our bodies continued to be a mainstay of Xpress’ wellness section in 2018.
  9. Moving in the mountains: With the area’s beautiful mountains as a backdrop, more people found ways to get their workouts in the great outdoors. Good balance is crucial at any age but decreases as we get older, making targeted programs to preserve balance an important piece of the wellness puzzle. We profiled Hendersonville resident Jordan Hutchinson’s successful quest to win a state title in bodybuilding, while a new program for athletes with intellectual and developmental disabilities offered at South Slope CrossFit expanded opportunities for health seekers of all kinds to pursue their fitness objectives together.
  10. Tapping in to larger truths: Spiritual teachers from creation theologian Matthew Fox to indigenous spiritual leaders Wanbdi Wakita and Pahan Pte San Win visited WNC for special events. Locals also drew inspiration from meditation traditions and the practice of walking a labyrinth.

Editor’s note: This article was updated on Jan. 4 to reflect that the planned meeting on Friday, Jan. 11, will provide city staff with information about harm reduction methods from Buncombe County Health and Human Services Department staffers. Assistant City Manager Cathy Ball explained on Jan. 4 that a subsequent meeting (which has not yet been scheduled) is expected to include representatives from the Steady Collective and the Western North Carolina AIDS Project.


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About Virginia Daffron
Managing editor, lover of mountains, native of WNC. Follow me @virginiadaffron

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