Wellness roundup: Medicaid expansion begins Dec. 1

NEW IN TOWN: Pediatrician Dr. Ivana Baumgarten, left, joined Western Carolina Community Health Services; Carl Falconer, center, joined Homeward Bound of WNC as CEO; and Dr. Rebecca Rice, right, joined Pardee Bariatrics and General Surgery. Photos courtesy of WNCCHS, Homeward Bound and UNC Health Pardee

North Carolina will expand Medicaid benefits starting Friday, Dec. 1, granting health care coverage to more residents ages 19-64. N.C. Medicaid services include primary care, prescription drug benefits, behavioral health, maternity and postpartum care, and other services. Recipients do not pay monthly premiums.

Adults may qualify if they earn up to 138% of the federal poverty limit, which is about $20,000 a year for a single person and about $34,000 for a family of three. For more information about income eligibility, visit avl.mx/d3f. North Carolina residents can apply online for N.C. Medicaid through ePASS at avl.mx/d3e, or in person, over the phone or through a mailed application.

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services received final federal approval from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in October. NCDHHS will continue to manage Medicaid in the state.

Mission physicians release letter

Dozens of Mission Health physicians and advanced practice providers signed an open letter to Ronald Winters, CEO of Gibbins Advisors, addressing allegations in an Oct. 19 letter he received from current and former Mission providers. “Their version does not tell the whole story, and there are many of us who do not feel that their voice represents us as a whole,” the Mission Health letter reads. Mission Health spokesperson Nancy Lindell released the letter Nov. 1, which can be read at avl.mx/d5c.

Gibbins Advisors is the independent monitor of HCA Healthcare, which was hired by Dogwood Health Trust in 2019. HCA Healthcare, a for-profit health care system, purchased Mission Hospital for $1.5 billion that same year. Dogwood Health Trust was created as part of the sale, and Attorney General Josh Stein appointed Gibbins Advisors as the independent monitor. 

At an Oct. 19 community meeting held in Asheville, Dr. Robert Kline, a former member of Mission Hospital’s board of directors, read a letter aloud addressed to Winters. It cited concerns about the quality of patient care and “countless health care staff who have left Mission and/or the medical community since the sale.” That letter can be read at avl.mx/d5d.

The Mission Health letter disputes these allegations. “In spite of the claims made in the previous letter, Mission Health’s services have continued to grow to meet the needs of our patients,” it reads, citing several new units and services. It also defends the quality of patient care Mission Health provides. “The implications of the letter that suggest we are not giving the best to patients is offensive to those physicians and advanced practice providers who are showing up every day to provide excellent care to our community,” it reads. 

The Mission Health letter described the authors of the letter read by Kline as “some physicians who have previously been involved with Mission Hospital.” Fifty-nine physicians, both open signers and anonymous, added their names to the letter read by Kline as of Oct. 25.

Code Purple in effect through April 30

Asheville’s Code Purple program, which provides emergency shelter for people experiencing homelessness, runs this year through April 30.

The Asheville-Buncombe Homeless Coalition will call a Code Purple if the temperature is 32 degrees or below, including wind chill, or 33-40 degrees with precipitation. Code Purple is announced 48 hours in advance.

Asheville Buncombe Community Christian Ministry will provide 75 beds in total between Veterans Restoration Quarters, which serves single men, and Transformation Village, which serves single women and children. The Salvation Army will provide 16 beds for single men. Families may be offered hotel rooms if no shelter space is available. There will be fewer entry requirements at participating shelters during Code Purple.

Asheville Rides Transit will provide free rides for unhoused people to shelters at night and downtown the following morning. Mission Hospital will facilitate taxi service to Code Purple shelters for unhoused people who are discharged from the hospital. For more information on Code Purple rules, shelter hours of operation and additional details on transportation, read the Code Purple Procedure Manual at avl.mx/d3n.

Cigna expands Medicare in WNC

Cigna Healthcare is expanding Medicare Advantage to eligible customers in Avery, Madison, Mitchell and Yancey counties.

A number of plans are available, including one for people who qualify for both Medicare and Medicaid. All plans include a dental allowance for preventive services at a dentist who accepts Medicare, and hearing and vision benefits, among other benefits.

The plans are available through Thursday, Dec. 7, during Medicare’s annual enrollment period. The plans become effective Monday, Jan. 1. For more information, visit avl.mx/d3t.

Sunrise drop-in closes

Sunrise Community for Recovery and Wellness has temporarily closed its drop-in community center from 46 Westgate Shopping Center.  The nonprofit is currently seeking a new location. All other Sunrise programs are unaffected and will continue uninterrupted. For more information about Sunrise’s services, visit avl.mx/d56.

Fire marshal acquires additional drone

In October, the Buncombe County Fire Marshal’s Office began using a DJI Mavic 3 Enterprise drone for fire investigations, lost-person searches, wildfires and emergency management support during natural disasters.

The new drone has thermal imaging technology, zoom capability up to 400 feet in altitude, speaker communication and live-feed video transmission. Fire Marshal Kevin Tipton tells Xpress the drone was used in October to determine the origin of a fire in a private home that sustained a roof collapse.

The Buncombe County Fire Marshal’s Office has operated a Mini 3 drone, which takes videos and photos in fire investigations, since early 2023. Tipton says it has been used on five to six fires this year.

Assistant Fire Marshal Justin Honeycutt, EMS quality control officer Will Key and assistant EMS operations supervisor Chris Dorsey have drone pilot licensure from the Federal Aviation Administration.

Nonprofits receive $10K grants

The Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce distributed grants to 24 nonprofits in honor of its 125th anniversary. Nonprofit applications were scored by members of the business community and a public vote. Recipients include All Souls Counseling Center, which will expand its counseling services, and Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project, which will double supplemental nutrition assistance, or SNAP, program benefits.

AdventHealth breaks ground

AdventHealth Hendersonville broke ground Oct. 10 on a new medical office building for physician offices, surgery and specialty services. The 60,000-square-foot building off Howard Gap Road in Hendersonville is expected to open in November 2024.

Community kudos

  • Henderson County Health Director Steven E. Smith announced he plans to retire after 32 years in public health service. Smith will continue to serve until May to give the Henderson County Board of Health time to find a successor.
  • Western North Carolina Community Health Services welcomed pediatrician Dr. Ivana Baumgarten to the WNCCHS-Minnie Jones Health Center last month. She will provide physical exams, vaccinations and referrals to specialists. WNCCHS is a federally qualified health center, which provides health services to individuals regardless of their ability to pay. To make an appointment with Dr. Baumgarten, call 828-285-0622.
  • UNC Health Pardee has appointed Marilee Arnold as chief nursing officer and Brian Leutner as vice president of clinical services.
  • Homeward Bound has hired Carl Falconer as CEO. He previously served in the U.S. Army and most recently served as CEO of a nonprofit dedicated to relieving homelessness in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
  • Southeastern Sports Medicine and Orthopedics, a department of UNC Health Pardee, has added four physicians: Drs. Hubert GoochJames HoskiMark Moody and Marshall Ney. All four physicians are accepting new patients. To schedule an appointment, call 828-274-4555.
  • Pardee Bariatrics and General Surgery has welcomed bariatric surgeon Dr. Rebecca Rice. Rice is accepting new patients. To schedule an appointment, call 828-694-8463.
  • Seán Johnson has joined Asheville Yoga Center as director. Johnson is the founder of Wild Lotus Yoga in New Orleans.

Save the date

  • Hello, Gorgeous! Professional Bra Fitting & More, 61 N. Merrimon Ave., Suite 107, will hold a free Menopause Cafe event 6-8 p.m. Monday, Nov. 13. Menopause Cafe is a global nonprofit dedicated to raising awareness about changes that occur during menopause. For more information, visit avl.mx/d3u.
  • Hillman Beer, 25 Sweeten Creek Road, will donate $1 from every beer, cider or seltzer draft to Outward Bound School Veterans Division on Monday, Nov. 13, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Courses with Outward Bound School Veterans Division offer free tuition and travel for all active-duty service members and veterans who were deployed in a combat area.
  • AARP N.C. Mountain Region will host a screening of the documentary The Last Ecstatic Days on Friday, Nov. 17, 2-5 p.m., at Pack Memorial Library, Lord Auditorium, 67 Haywood St. The screening is part of its free film series “Dancing with Death — The Last Great Adventure.” The Last Ecstatic Days is a documentary about Ethan Sisser, a 36-year-old man who had terminal brain cancer, and Dr. Aditi Sethi, who helped Sisser die in a homelike setting surrounded by loved ones. Following the film, the audience is invited to stay for an in-depth discussion monitored by Emmy Award winner Gail Harris. For information about other films in the series, visit avl.mx/d3v.
  • The Weaverville Center for Creative and Healthy Living, 60 Lakeshore Drive, will offer a free workshop 2-4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 19, on navigating grief through the holidays. Wendy Lantis will guide the workshop, which touches on mindfulness practice. To reserve a spot, contact Lantis at bloomingself@gmail.com.
  • Asheville Brewers Alliance, Mercy Urgent Care, Highland Brewing Co. and Devil’s Foot Beverage will hold an information session about alcohol use 5:30-6:30 p.m., Monday, Nov. 20, at Highland Brewing Co., 26 Old Charlotte Highway. The session will address how to identify signs of excessive drinking, strategies for moderate consumption and resources for support. The class is free for ABA members and $10 for the general public.

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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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