Wellness in brief: Hospitals suspend COVID-19 vaccination requirements

EMOTIONAL FIRST AID: Mandy Atkission of Trauma Intervention Programs of WNC says volunteers provide emotional support and logistical assistance in the aftermath of a tragedy. Photo courtesy of TIP

Hospitals suspend COVID-19 vaccination requirements

Earlier this month, AdventHealth Hendersonville, Pardee UNC Health Care and Mission Health suspended requirements that employees become fully vaccinated against COVID-19, as per a federal Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services memorandum.

CMS had issued an emergency regulation on Nov. 4 mandating that all eligible workers at Medicaid and Medicare-certified providers receive their first COVID-19 vaccine dose by Dec. 6 and be fully vaccinated by Tuesday. Jan. 4. The mandate is facing legal challenges in the U.S. District Courts for the Eastern District of Missouri and Western District of Louisiana.

“As part of our commitment to protecting the health and well-being of our team members, patients and communities, we strongly encourage all of our team members to receive the COVID-19 vaccine,” wrote AdventHealth spokesperson Victoria Dunkle in a statement. “We will continue to monitor the ongoing litigation regarding the federal law.”

“Prior to the CMS action creating a mandate, as part of HCA Healthcare, Mission Health had encouraged our colleagues to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and made vaccines readily available, but we had not mandated vaccination,” Nancy Lindell, spokesperson for Mission Health, said in a statement to Xpress. “Because recent federal court decisions have resulted in the CMS mandate being put on hold indefinitely, we have paused our vaccine requirement.”

Buncombe County reports uptick in COVID-19 cases

The confirmed COVID-19 case rate in Buncombe County increased 54% in a week and stood at 208 cases per 100,000 people as of Dec. 7, according to Stacie Saunders, the county’s public health director. Buncombe’s COVID-19 test positivity rate had also risen to 6.6%; the World Health Organization has set a target of 5% or lower for governments to begin relaxing pandemic measures.

The increase hasn’t caused a strain for the area’s hospitals, but it is “something to take note of,” Saunders said. The county reported that almost 5% of inpatient beds in the Mission Health hospital system were occupied with COVID-19 cases as of Dec. 6, compared with 2.8% of inpatient beds prior to Thanksgiving.

Saunders continued to encourage vaccination, hand washing, social distancing and wearing masks to slow the spread of COVID-19. On Dec. 7, the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to support an extension of the county’s indoor face covering requirement through Tuesday, Jan. 5.

Free COVID-19 vaccines are available to anyone 5 and older at Buncombe County Health & Human Services, 40 Coxe Ave., 9 a.m.-4 p.m., Tuesday through Friday. No appointment is necessary, and no ID is required. More information is available at BuncombeReady.org.

Trauma Intervention Programs of WNC seeks volunteers 

Trauma Intervention Programs of WNC is accepting applications from those seeking to undergo its 55-hour training and become an “emotional first aid” volunteer. Trainees are not certified counselors, explains TIP CEO Mandy Atkission, who is active in the organization’s WNC affiliate. Rather, they provide emotional support and logistical assistance for family members and loved ones in the immediate aftermath of a tragedy, such as a violent crime, suicide or overdose.

Volunteers are dispatched 24/7 through the 911 system for  Buncombe County and the city of Hendersonville by police, fire departments and emergency medical services. Atkission says volunteers aim to respond to a scene within 20 minutes of being requested.

The next TIP WNC trainings will take place on weeknights and weekends Thursday-Saturday, Jan. 6-15; there is no deadline to apply. Prospective volunteers must pass a background check and attend all eight classes. Upon completion of the program, volunteers will be scheduled for three 12-hour “on call” shifts each month. More information about TIP training, class times and an application can be found at avl.mx/azt.

Pardee receives grant to purchase technology for blood clot removal

The Community Foundation of Henderson County awarded a $35,500 grant to the Pardee Hospital Foundation of Pardee UNC Health Care to purchase technology that removes blood clots. In a minimally invasive procedure, the AngioJet Rheolytic Thrombectomy System can mechanically remove a clot from an artery or vein, according to a Pardee press release.

Steady Collective expands hours

The Steady Collective, an Asheville-based harm reduction organization, has expanded its outreach hours. Biweekly on Tuesdays, the group will provide syringe exchanges and overdose-reversal medication at Woodfin Apartments for apartment residents only noon-1 p.m.; services will also be offered every Tuesday in front of Firestorm Books & Coffee, 610 Haywood Road B, 1:30-4 p.m. On Wednesdays, Steady Collective will operate at Haywood Street Congregation, 297 Haywood Street, 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m. And on Thursdays, services will be offered every other week at Hillcrest Apartments at the curve of Atkinson Street, 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m., and weekly at Pisgah View Apartments in front of the basketball courts, 1-4 p.m. More information is available at avl.mx/azz.

Mental health for seniors 

The gerontology team at Vaya Health will hold two free information sessions about mental health Monday, Dec. 20. “Depression: From Surviving to Thriving” takes place 10-11 a.m. at the Jackson County Senior Center, 100 County Services Park Drive, Sylva. Registration is available by calling the Jackson County Senior Center at 828-586-5494.

“Anxiety: Calming the Anxious Mind” will be offered 12:30-1:30 p.m. at the Jackson County Public Library, 310 Keener St., Sylva. Registration is available by calling the library at 828-586-2016.

Movers and shakers

  • The Mountain Area Health Education Center announced Dr. Blake Fagan will chair its Department of Family Medicine beginning in January. Fagan is a family physician and UNC School of Medicine professor who currently oversees office-based opioid treatment services at MAHEC’s family health centers. Fagan succeeds Steve Hulkower, who led the department for 13 years and announced his plans to step down last spring.
  • Dr. Ralph Christian Estes is retiring from Pardee UNC Health Care at the end of December. Estes is an orthopedic surgeon at Southeastern Sports Medicine and Orthopedics within Pardee.

Mark your calendars

  • The American Red Cross Blood Drive Mobile Bus will take donations at the Asheville Outlets Friday, Dec. 17, 11 a.m.-3 p.m., in the parking lot by the food court.
  • Asheville nonprofit Tranzmission is hosting a nonbinary support meeting online Thursday, Dec. 23, 6:30-8 p.m. The meeting is only open to those who identify as nonbinary or who are exploring an nonbinary identity. More information is available by emailing info@Tranzmission.org.
  • Pardee Hospital is hosting a class on labor and birth Thursday, Jan. 6, 6:30-8:30 p.m., at the Pardee Hospital Orientation Classroom, 800 N. Justice St., Hendersonville. Registration is available at avl.mx/azy.
  • The YWCA of Asheville hosts a health fair Saturday, Jan. 8, 10 a.m.-2 p.m., at 185 S. French Broad Ave. The fair will include tours of the gym and aquatic center, a self-defense mini-course, a mini-group exercise class taught by YWCA instructors and local vendors. More information is available at avl.mx/b13.
  • The Buncombe County Violence Prevention Task Force, a collaboration between nonprofits Our VOICE, Helpmate, Pisgah Legal Services and other organizations, meets Wednesday, Jan. 26, 3:30-5:30 p.m. The meeting is open to the public and presented in English, Spanish and ASL. More information is available at avl.mx/azw.

Editor’s note: This article was updated on Dec. 17. 


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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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