Wellness in brief: Mission nurses move closer to union vote

Health workers with arms crossed
STANDING UNITED: The vote by Mission Hospital nurses on whether to form a union cleared another legal hurdle after Mission representatives chose not to file an objection over a preelection hearing. Photo by Getty Images

Nurses at Asheville’s Mission Hospital have cleared the latest hurdle to voting on forming a union. As confirmed by Mission spokesperson Nancy Lindell on June 11, the health system’s legal representatives have chosen not to file an objection regarding how a preelection hearing was conducted.

That hearing — which spanned 12 days from April 14 through May 6, generated over 1,400 pages of transcripts and included thousands of additional pages of evidence — took place by telephone in light of mass gathering restrictions due to COVID-19. However, after the Mission hearing concluded, the National Labor Relations Board ruled in a different case that such hearings should instead be conducted by videoconference unless “compelling circumstances exist.”

Now that Mission’s legal team has given the go-ahead, the NLRB will consider the testimony from the preelection hearing to determine what nurses would be represented by the union, when the vote will take place and how employees will be allowed to cast ballots. Nurses have requested that the vote occur by mail to avoid the risk of COVID-19 exposure, while Mission representatives have insisted that an in-person vote poses no danger.

As of June 15, the NLRB had not issued any further rulings on the case. The date of the union vote, which nurses first requested on March 6, has yet to be determined.

Partnership to expand care on Highlands-Cashiers Plateau

A new joint effort of the Highlands Cashiers Health Foundation, Blue Ridge Health and the Mountain Area Health Education Center seeks to provide universal access to health care for residents and workers in the Highlands-Cashiers area. The project would involve a rural teaching program organized by UNC Health Sciences at MAHEC, as well as a primary care clinic somewhere on the Plateau.

“We acknowledge from the outset this project’s scope is wide, and our goal and related objectives are ambitious requiring significant contributions of time, talent and treasure from the partners and members of the community,” said Dr. Walter Clark, chair of the Highlands Cashiers Health Foundation, in a June 5 press release announcing the partnership. “However, we know with the determination of these partners, along with the philanthropic passion of this community, we are on the road to a true success.”

Among the partnership’s goals is improving the “long-term stability of the communities on the Plateau” through health care availability, which has been problematic in the largely rural region. Further details around the project’s timeline and physician team have yet to be announced.

Urgent care testing finds no coronavirus antibodies in WNC residents

After nearly three weeks of testing across eight Western North Carolina locations, Asheville-based Mercy Urgent Care has not detected any antibodies to the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Since starting to offer antibody testing on May 21, says spokesperson Sharon Owen, Mercy had performed about 150 tests through June 10.

The antibody test indicates if a person had COVID-19 in the past and does not indicate current infection with the coronavirus. Mercy has also conducted over 1,300 viral tests since the start of the pandemic, with a positivity rate of approximately 3.5%.

Owen notes that most of those who sought the antibody testing — herself included — had been ill with flu-like symptoms prior to the imposition of local stay-home orders and were curious whether they’d had COVID-19. “I cannot believe we haven’t had a positive antibody test yet, even though these are 99% reliable,” she says.

Mercy continues to offer testing for both antibodies and active COVID-19 infections. Self-pay pricing for both tests is $249, with separate billing for specimen analysis; tests may be covered by private insurance, Medicare and Medicaid.

Countering COVID

  • TRU-D SmartUVC disinfecting robot
    BRIGHT IDEA: AdventHealth Hendersonville recently added disinfecting robots to its arsenal of tools against COVID-19. Photo courtesy of AdventHealth Hendersonville

    The Charles George VA Medical Center has begun offering convalescent plasma treatment for patients with COVID-19 as part of a national program coordinated by the Mayo Clinic. The experimental treatment uses blood plasma collected from recovered COVID-19 patients, which is thought to contain antibodies that can help fight off the coronavirus.

  • The United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County is distributing 125,000 reusable face coverings to area nonprofit and grassroots organizations in need. Requests for at least 100 and up to 500 face coverings can be made through avl.mx/7ag.
  • AdventHealth Hendersonville has deployed disinfecting robots for added safety in operating and patient rooms. The robots use ultraviolet light to disrupt the genetic material of bacteria and viruses, including the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, which prevents them from reproducing.

Tips of the hat

  • MAHEC received a $40,560 grant from the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina in support of the SistasCaring4Sistas doula program. The money will support a full-time doula for the program, which works to eliminate racial disparities in maternal health outcomes and infant mortality.
  • AdventHealth Hendersonville was recertified by The Joint Commission as a Spine Surgery Center of Excellence. AdventHealth first received the commission’s Gold Seal of Approval for its spine surgery work in 2017.
  • AdventHealth also became the region’s first health system to acquire a GE Healthcare Revolution Apex CT scanner. According to a press release from the system, the new device allows doctors to “see an entire organ, such as the heart, including its blood flow and motion.”
  • Amber Reece-Young, a registered nurse with the Henderson County Public Schools, was named the state’s School Nurse Administrator of the Year by the National Association of School Nurses. Reece-Young has worked as a nurse with the system since 2005 and served as a lead nurse since 2016.
  • Two regional health systems announced new additions to their physician teams. Pardee UNC Health Care in Hendersonville is adding cardiologist Dr. Leslie Campbell, while breast cancer surgery specialist Dr. Allison Palumbo is joining Harris Regional Hospital in Sylva.

Save the date

  • The N.C. Council on Developmental Disabilities hosts a virtual listening session for the state’s Latino community 12:30-2 p.m. Monday, June 22. Registration for the session, input from which will be used to develop the upcoming Council’s five-year plan, is available at avl.mx/7ah.
  • Pardee UNC Health Care hosts a free prostate cancer screening from 5:30-7 p.m. Tuesday, June 30. Men aged 40-75 who have not previously been diagnosed with prostate cancer can schedule an appointment by calling 828-698-7317.
  • The Alzheimer’s Association Western North Carolina chapter is offering free virtual educational programs throughout June in recognition of Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month. More information and registration details are available at avl.mx/7aj.

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About Daniel Walton
Daniel Walton is the Assistant Editor of Mountain Xpress, regularly contributing to coverage of Western North Carolina's government, environment and health care. His work has previously appeared in Capital at Play, Edible Asheville, and the Citizen-Times, among other area publications. Follow me @DanielWWalton

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