COVID-19 has dominated discussions about health and wellness for nearly three years, and that’s certainly been reflected in the media landscape nationwide. In Asheville, however, the effects of COVID-19 on physical health and mental health are just one story to be told.
Along with updates on the pandemic, 2022 saw multiple lawsuits against HCA and Mission Health, nurses unionizing at Mission Hospital, the county disbursing millions of dollars received from the opioid settlements, expansion to Buncombe County Emergency Medical Services and the ongoing impact of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision on local residents and medical institutions.
Has COVID-19 had a lasting impact on your life? If so, how?
“The way that I work and think about work has changed a lot. My mantra is ‘There is no such thing as a reference emergency.’” — Katherine Cutshall, manager, Buncombe County Special Collections
“My perspective on COVID-19 shifted from facing my own mortality to outrage at the ongoing effects of corporate greed and opportunism, using the virus as cover to accelerate our path into a new Gilded Age of corporate monopolization and inequities.” — Mitch Li, physician and co-founder of Take Medicine Back
“I am much more appreciative of the people I get to see in person. The strength of our area is in community, and that means the development and maintenance of relationships.” — Ron Katz, social justice advocate
“COVID-19 has been a demon in my life because I’ve been separated from my friends. They were people I could talk to. With my family, I had to spend even more time away from my mom and my 1-year-old sister because of the risk of having COVID.” — Julia Darity, eighth grade student
“I have witnessed friends and family members becoming estranged due to differing beliefs in the value of masks and vaccines. I have had to learn to adapt my work life in many instances to virtual communication techniques, and my skills in that area have increased.” — Jim Causby, interim superintendent, Asheville City Schools
“COVID hasn’t stopped me or slowed me down at all. It’s more of an opportunity for us to take care of ourselves and look out for each other.” — Micah Mackenzie, photographer
What events have had the biggest impact on your mental health? And how?
“The opportunity to help other veterans and their families is a great honor and tremendous responsibility. Working at the Veterans Healing Farm has given me the greatest sense of peace I’ve ever known. It is a place of hope, and all are welcome.” — Alan Yeck, executive director of Veterans Healing Farm
“Monkeypox and COVID — I believe it was largely a scare tactic to control the population.” — Kikkoman Shaw, executive chef, Equal Plates Project
“Community bicycle rides lighten my heart and energize my commitment to the community. Advocating for safer streets and greenways is an uphill battle at every twist and turn, so it’s invigorating to experience the results.” — Mike Sule, executive director, Asheville on Bikes
How would you like to see the city and county support those experiencing substance use disorder and/or mental health issues?
“As a native of WNC who is in long-term recovery from substance use disorder, I recommend that the county and the city have more people with lived experience at the decision-making tables. I would like to see more culturally sensitive recovery services, recovery housing and evidence-based treatment. If we are to combat the stigma in the communities of color, then we must be intentional about investing in programs that are connected and trusted in those communities.” — Philip Cooper, INspire Project coordinator, Land of Sky Regional Council
“Introducing safe injection sites and expanding the work by peer-led groups to support harm reduction is going to be key in preventing overdoses. Also, more support needs to be found for those with severe, persistent mental illness that blocks them from engaging in the available resources.” — Mike DeSerio, AHOPE outreach program manager, Homeward Bound
“Our community is desperate for appropriate public safety responses! We have access to data-informed solutions, and now the public has to push us on funding priorities beyond business as usual. I would like to see partnership in expansion of the county’s community paramedicine program, and we should also address barriers to mutual aid efforts.” — Kim Roney, Asheville City Council member
“Commit the funds and cut the bureaucracy. The current approach certainly hasn’t been working well. Action, not rhetoric! Actively work to destigmatize mental health and substance use disorders. They need help, not punishment and isolation.” — Alan Yeck
“Lack of housing and community connection contribute to substance use and mental health challenges. I would support a facility/structure that would provide increased support for those social determinants of health.” — Kevin Mahoney, peer support specialist
How do you feel that local wellness and health institutions have met or not met our health needs?
“I love Asheville’s alternative health options. I’ve been impressed by the level of care provided by all of the acupuncturists, massage therapists and other holistic wellness professionals. We are blessed to have so many talented healers that help people take their power back in the form of better health.” — Elle Erickson, founder, The Booth Fairy
“COVID pushed us all to think about wellness much more holistically and comprehensively. Our wellness is more than our blood pressure or our heart rate or any set of metrics. It’s also about setting limits on how we spend our days and whether that time is in service of our own values. Most health care organizations are based on the medical model that has little to do with wellness.” — Will Overfelt
“The privatization of Mission Health to HCA has had incredible impacts, and the firsthand accounts are terrifying. Our local nurses have unionized, calling out how HCA prioritizes profits over patient care, and our community is rallying in solidarity when they call for support.” — Kim Roney
“Local health and wellness institutions that began as a regional response to COVID continue to collaborate. This group, the Mountain Health Alliance, continues to meet to discuss the emerging issues impacting the health of our region. I’m pleased to say that we’ve seen everyone ‘lean in’ rather than ‘back out.’ I’m confident that this spirit of collaboration based on new and deepened relationships will continue, allowing our impact to be far greater than the sum of our individual efforts.” — William Hathaway, CEO, Mountain Area Health Education Center
“I don’t think they meet our health needs. I look at it from the standpoint of Black people. They give us medication for stuff like high blood pressure or diabetes that doesn’t actually help long-term health. It gets people addicted to drugs, then they try to wean them off with another drug. It’s all a moneymaking scheme; the health industry is probably the biggest drug dealer in the world.” — Kikkoman Shaw
“Our institutions spend most of their resources maintaining and protecting their institutions, with systems so complicated you need an advocate to navigate them. Many of our health providers are constrained from sharing the best possible care due to insurance, politicization of health care and lack of funding for public health clinics. The sooner we establish health care for all, the sooner we can begin to repair the inequities and disintegration of our health systems.” — Robyn Josephs, admin/community manager, Black Mountain Exchange and Asheville Politics