Health roundup: Mental Health Month, needs rising

Sunrise Recovery outreach team
PEER TO PEER: Sunrise Recovery outreach team members, from left, Knowledge Green, Tanasia Boyd and Jennifer Aviles, recently handed out supply bags with snacks, water, hygiene products, syringe supplies and the overdose reversal medication naloxone at Haywood Street Congregation. Photo courtesy of Sunrise Community for Wellness and Recovery

May is Mental Health Month

“These past months have been really hard on so many North Carolinians. Our lives have changed in unimaginable ways, and some of us may be struggling with managing our mental health,” said Dr. Mandy Cohen, the state’s secretary of health and human services, as Gov. Roy Cooper announced May as Mental Health Month.

According to a press release from Cooper’s office, “One in five adults struggle with mental health challenges in a given year, and during this month people are encouraged to hold open conversations that support and respect individuals living with mental illness. The majority of individuals with mental illness do not receive the treatment they need.”

To help meet that need, the state is offering expanded telehealth mental health services during the coronavirus pandemic at 1-855-587-3463.

Recovery support continues 

Local nonprofits provide many services to people struggling with mental health, substance abuse and addiction. Feelings of loneliness and isolation often accompany those conditions, and that’s a big reason nonprofit peer support organization Sunrise Recovery says it’s finding ways to continue its work despite COVID-19 restrictions.

With modifications to allow for distancing, the organization’s ongoing services include:

  • Daily support meetings online and by phone.
  • A 24/7 crisis phone service, the Warm Line, which provides resource referrals, meeting schedules, recovery support or a chance simply to hear another person’s voice at 828-280-2554.
  • Individual peer support appointments to help formulate a recovery plan or listen nonjudgmentally; phone appointments can be scheduled Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m.
  • Harm reduction services to provide safe injection supplies for those using illicit drugs.
  • Wellness kits with food, supplies, safety gear and information on community resources.

“We know personally the challenges that come with addiction and mental health issues and we know the success in striving to reach our full potential,” says Sue Polston, the organization’s executive director. “We are here for people who may be struggling — now during this COVID-19 crisis and after it’s over.”

Schedule information is available at 828-552-3858 or on the group’s Facebook page at

Needs rising dramatically at ABCCM

The numbers of those needing help with food and medicine due to the COVID-19 pandemic are “growing at a rate difficult to measure,” according to a recent statement from Asheville Buncombe Community Christian Ministry, which served nearly 22,000 people in 2019. Just as needs are rising, however, the nonprofit’s pool of volunteers has shrunk by 70% due to health concerns among vulnerable workers.

The organization expects needs for emergency financial assistance to spike when moratoriums on bill collection and eviction are lifted. If that were to occur in May, the organization says, many families would be three months behind on monthly expenses and face utility disconnections and evictions, which could average $1,150 per client. The demand for food boxes is also expected to grow from 85 to 120 per day.

ABCCM can now provide emergency shelter to 18 individuals at its Veterans Restoration Quarters (out of 250 total transitional residents) and four individuals at its Steadfast House facility for women and children (out of 50 total transitional residents). The organization expects demand to rise as residents need safe spaces to quarantine following a positive COVID-19 test result. Within its housing facilities, the cost of meals is $54,000 a month, or $2 per meal.

Staff members see about 60 current patients a week at  ABCCM’s medical clinic. The clinic projects increasing needs for personal protective equipment for staff, an expense of $4,000 per month, and expects its pharmacy costs to rise by 50%, to a total of $3,000 per month. COVID-19 tests run $51.30 per test, and the clinic anticipates needing around 25 tests each week, a total cost of over $5,000 per month.

Good to know

  • Nonprofit community blood collection center The Blood Connection is offering COVID-19 antibody testing to all donors at no cost. According to a press release, “The organization will make results available to the donor within seven business days by means of electronic portal. This testing is only available to blood donors, and a complete donation must be made in order to be tested. Individual testing is not available to those who are unwilling or unable to donate.” More information is available at
  • Papillon DeBoer, a counselor with nonprofit Our VOICE, has launched a new podcast titled Am I Broken: Survivor Stories. Noting that the stories should be listened to with care and the awareness that some may find them upsetting, Our VOICE explained, “Am I Broken highlights the journey survivors make, from sexual abuse to healing. This first season’s episodes highlight male survivor stories: 1 in 6 men report an unwanted or abusive sexual experience before the age of 18.” Episodes are available at
  • The nonprofit Carolina Resource Center for Eating Disorders is partnering with Education and Insight on Eating Disorders to host an online “Zero K” fundraising event through June 8. For more information and to register, visit
  • Nonprofit hospice services provider Four Seasons has dedicated a wing of its Elizabeth House facility in Flat Rock to caring for patients with COVID-19. The space has a separate entrance from the main facility, and a separate group of staff works in the unit.

Buncombe County sees outbreaks in care facilities

As of May 15, 15 staff members and residents of Buncombe County long-term care facilities have tested positive for COVID-19. At Aston Park Health CareCare, four staff members and six residents were positive, while Deerfield Episcopal Retirement Community’s Simonds Health Care Center had four staff members and one resident with the disease. No COVID-19-associated deaths have been reported among residents or staff of congregate care facilities in Buncombe County.

In neighboring Henderson County, however, the numbers are far higher:

  • Brian Center Health & Rehabilitation/Hendersonville: six staff, 42 residents and eight resident deaths.
  • The Laurels of Hendersonville: 16 staff, 77 residents and 17 resident deaths.
  • Cherry Springs Village, an assisted living facility next door to The Laurels: 13 staff members, 45 residents and 10 resident deaths.
  • The Lodge at Mills River: one staff member and one resident were diagnosed; the outbreak is now considered ended there.

Altogether, 201 people associated with Henderson County congregate living facilities have been infected, and 35 facility residents have died.

In Polk County, 17 cases have been identified in two facilities, and three facility residents have died.

A “strike team” of public health nurses and emergency services personnel will visit all Buncombe County long-term care facilities to provide technical testing assistance and review plans for isolation and quarantine of suspected COVID-19 cases. Meanwhile, North Carolina’s emergency response team is working to distribute personal protection equipment, including masks, gloves and gowns, to the 38,000 long-term care and congregate living facilities across the state.

Community testing to continue

Last week, Buncombe County health officials offered free COVID-19 testing at Hillcrest Community Center and the Buncombe County Schools Central Office. At the Hillcrest site, 46 individuals were tested, reported Dr. Jennifer Mullendore, the county’s interim health director, during a May 14 press conference. She added that 34% of those who had tested positive for COVID-19 in Buncombe County are Hispanic; 6% of county residents identify as Hispanic or Latinx, she said. On May 15, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services changed its testing guidelines to ensure that members of marginalized groups can receive testing whether or not they are experiencing symptoms.

Testing will be available at Sandy Mush Community Center Wednesday, May 20, 1-4 p.m. and Deaverview Apartments Thursday, May 21, 1-4 p.m. The testing is free, but individuals are asked to bring insurance information if they have it.

Big moves

  • Dr. Susan Mims will chair the newly established Department of Community and Public Health at UNC Health Sciences at Mountain Area Health Education Center. Mims previously led Mission Children’s Hospital, as well as Women’s Health and Clinical Genetics at Mission Health. Before that, she served as medical director for the Buncombe County Department of Public Health.
  • Cory Reeves was named president and CEO for AdventHealth Hendersonville. Reeves, who previously served as vice president and chief financial officer for the AdventHealth Southeast Region and for AdventHealth Gordon & Murray in Georgia, replaced Jimm Bunch, who announced his retirement in February.
  • Lelia Duncan replaced Robin Myer, the outgoing executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Western North Carolina, who retired May 15 after 28 years in the position. Duncan, a Brevard resident, has managed and led nonprofit organizations for more than 30 years. 
  • On May 5, Myer received the Order of Long Leaf Pine in recognition of his service to the local community and the state. The award, conferred by the governor, is considered among the most prestigious honors bestowed on state residents.
  • Sarah Rae St. Marie was named executive director of the Cindy Platt Boys & Girls Club in Brevard after working in various roles with the organization over the past seven years.



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