Wellness roundup: Birth control no longer requires a prescription in NC

Pharmacists in North Carolina can now dispense and administer certain medications, including some forms of hormonal birth control, without a prescription, according to a state law that went into effect Feb. 1. Both self-administered oral contraception (birth control pills) and transdermal contraception (birth control patches) are available.

House Bill 96 also gives immunizing pharmacists expanded ability to administer influenza and COVID-19 vaccines. Additionally, the law authorizes pharmacists to dispense nicotine replacement therapy approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration; prenatal vitamins; post-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, for exposure to HIV; and glucagon for the treatment of hypoglycemia. Gov. Roy Cooper signed the legislation into effect Aug. 20.

“Accessible and affordable contraception is a key component of ensuring all North Carolinians can access reproductive health care when and where they need it,” said Tara Romano, executive director of Pro-Choice North Carolina, in a Feb. 1 press release. “Birth control is a fundamental right, and everyone has the right to use the birth control that is best for them without having to navigate obstacles.”

Mission Hospital postponing surgeries 

As of Jan. 26, Mission Hospital has been postponing some scheduled surgeries in response to increased COVID-19 infections among staff and patients, as first reported by Asheville Watchdog.

“Mission Hospital leadership in consultation with physicians are reviewing surgical priorities throughout each day,” wrote spokesperson Nancy Lindell in a statement. “Mission Hospital is delaying only those surgeries that our team feels can safely be delayed.”

Lindell said the hospital’s emergency room remains open and is continuing to see patients experiencing heart attacks, strokes or trauma.

“Pardee intermittently paused elective surgeries between Jan. 10 and Jan. 24, dependent upon capacity and COVID caseloads,” Parde UNC Health Care chief nursing officer Carol Stefaniak wrote in a statement.

As of Feb. 7, AdventHealth Hendersonville is not delaying or rescheduling surgeries due to COVID-19, says spokesperson Victoria Dunkle.

Finding free COVID-19 tests

  • NC Medicaid beneficiaries can receive free at-home COVID-19 tests from local pharmacies per a Jan. 24 order by N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Chief Medical Officer Dr. Elizabeth Tilson. Recipients must present their NC Medicaid ID cards to receive the tests; pharmacies may impose limits on the number of tests each individual can receive due to the high volume of need.
  • NCDHHS and Labcorp, a clinical laboratory network, are providing free COVID-19 tests via avl.mx/b6e. Residents must create a Labcorp OnDemand account to request a test kit, which will be delivered for free via overnight shipping. Recipients must then register their test, self-collect a sample and mail the results back to the lab with the enclosed FedEx overnight shipping envelope. When results are ready, they can be accessed on the Labcorp OnDemand account. More information is available at avl.mx/b6c.
  • As of Jan. 15, private insurance companies and health plans are required to cover eight at-home COVID-19 tests per covered individual per month, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Individuals can purchase at-home COVID-19 tests in stores or online. Depending on insurance plan, tests may be covered upfront or reimbursed after filing a claim. Additionally, all tests that are ordered or administered by a health care provider following a clinical assessment must be covered, according to a statement from DHHS.
  • Any household in the U.S. can order four free at-home COVID-19 tests via COVIDTests.gov. Tests are expected to ship 7-12 days after being ordered. Households can also order the free tests by calling 800-232-0233.

New leadership

  • The Dogwood Health Trust announced Dr. Susan Mims as its permanent CEO Jan. 28. Mims, who had been the foundation’s interim CEO since December 2020, was previously chair of the Department of Community and Public Health at UNC Health Sciences at the Mountain Area Health Education Center. Dogwood was created from the approximately $1.5 billion sale of Mission Health in 2019 to HCA Healthcare. The foundation funds programs advancing community wellness throughout 18 WNC counties and the Qualla Boundary.
  • Western Carolina Medical Society, a professional association of physicians and physician assistants in WNC, announced Jan. 27 it had named Elisa Quarles its new CEO. Quarles will join the organization Tuesday, Feb. 22.

Mark your calendars

  • The Buncombe County Violence Prevention Task Force is seeking 10 middle and high school students to participate in monthly meetings about local preventive services and interventions. The meetings will take place 3:30-5:30 p.m. on designated days through October. Selected youths can be paid $50 per meeting for attending a minimum of five and a maximum of 10 meetings. Candidates must apply online at avl.mx/b5y by Wednesday, June 1; more information is available by emailing PTFImplementationTeam@gmail.com.
  • The Asheville Parks and Recreation Department is hosting its second annual Fit 50 Challenge, which asks residents to complete 50 miles of exercise by running, walking, skating or cycling through Friday, April 1. Participants must record their mileage (2,500 steps equals one mile) and post updates in a special Facebook group. The department will provide pedometers for tracking; participants can also use a smartwatch or phone app. The participant who accumulates the most miles will win an Apple Watch, and the runner-up will win a set of AirPods.  Participation in Fit 50 Challenge is free, and sign-ups are available at avl.mx/b62.
  • Pardee Hospital in Hendersonville is hosting virtual support groups for people with a cancer diagnosis and their caregivers. Between Friends is held the third Thursday of every month from 3-5 p.m; the next meeting takes place Thursday, Feb. 17. More information is available by contacting Leann Noakes, cancer nurse navigator, at 828-698-7317 or Leann.Noakes@UNCHealth.unc.edu.
  • The Rotary Club of Asheville-Biltmore is holding a 24-hour walkathon to fight dementia Friday, Feb. 25, on treadmills at the Deerfield Episcopal Retirement Community. Participants are invited to walk for 15 minutes at their own pace. Half of funds raised will be donated to MemoryCare, a nonprofit in Asheville serving Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers; the other half of funds raised will be donated to Coins for Alzheimer’s Research Trust, a project of Rotary International. More information is available at RotaryClubAB.org.
  • A performance of Eve Ensler’s play The Vagina Monologues at The Orange Peel, 101 Biltmore Ave, Friday, March 22, 8 p.m., will benefit Helpmate, a nonprofit providing services for survivors of domestic violence. Tickets are $15-$35, and all proceeds will support Helpmate. More information is available at avl.mx/b65.

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About Jessica Wakeman
Jessica Wakeman is an Asheville-based reporter for Mountain Xpress. She has been published in Rolling Stone, Glamour, New York magazine's The Cut, Bustle and many other publications. She was raised in Connecticut and holds a Bachelor's degree in journalism from New York University. Follow me @jessicawakeman

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