Wellness roundup: Vaya to consolidate with Cardinal; MAHEC receives doula grant

HELPING HANDS: SistasCaring4Sistas doulas, from left, Nikita Smart, Wakina Robertson, Cindy McMillan and Sade Mustakem. Photo courtesy of SistasCaring4Sistas

Asheville-based Vaya Health and Charlotte-based Cardinal Innovations, two of North Carolina’s largest managed care organizations, announced on June 1 that they will consolidate ahead of the state’s transformation to Medicaid managed care. Vaya will assume responsibility for coordinating services for Cardinal Innovations members once the organizations are consolidated.

Vaya Health currently manages services for individuals with mental illness, substance use disorders and intellectual and developmental disabilities across 22 Western North Carolina counties. The proposed consolidation, if approved by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services and county representatives, would mark the fourth such endeavor for Vaya: Previous mergers include New River Behavioral Healthcare in 2007, Foothills Area MH/DD/SA Authority in 2008 and Western Highlands Network in 2013.

In a press release announcing the move, Vaya leaders said the organization’s experience with transitioning members through consolidation efforts would be especially beneficial as the state’s public health care system undergoes a significant shift. The first phase of N.C. Medicaid Transformation will launch Thursday, July 1, with five commercial health plans set to manage integrated health benefits for the majority of Medicaid enrollees.

As part of the second phase of transformation, expected to launch in July 2022, Vaya and Cardinal Innovations are preparing to offer fully integrated care for people with a serious mental illness, a serious emotional disturbance, a severe substance use disorder, an intellectual/developmental disability or a traumatic brain injury.

Dogwood Health Trust chosen for Medicaid pilot programs

NCDHHS has named Dogwood Health Trust the lead organization for its Healthy Opportunities Pilot in WNC. Dogwood is one of only three organizations to be chosen for the program through a competitive selection process.

The pilot will bring part of $650 million in state and federal dollars into the region through October 2024, along with more than $10 million in additional investment from Dogwood Health Trust. According to a DHHS press release, “The groundbreaking program will create a systematic approach to integrating and financing nonmedical services that address housing stability, transportation access, food security and interpersonal safety into the delivery of health care.”

Healthy Opportunities allows human services organizations that address these unmet needs to receive Medicaid reimbursement. To be eligible for and receive pilot services, N.C. Medicaid Managed Care members in WNC must have at least one qualifying physical or behavioral health condition and one qualifying social risk factor. More information is available at avl.mx/9hu.

Good news

  • The Community Foundation of Western North Carolina recently approved a grant of $54,496 to the Mountain Area Health Education Center for SistasCaring4Sistas Doula Services, which will support the salary of a community-based doula for one year. The program aims to eradicate racial disparities in infant mortality by providing education and doula services to families who face adverse maternal health outcomes before, during and after pregnancy. According to DONA International, an organization for the education and certification of doulas, receiving support from a certified doula is linked to a reduced number of cesarean births, improved postpartum mental health and increased breastfeeding rates.
  • The Community Foundation of Henderson County awarded a $27,000 grant to Safelight, a Hendersonville-based nonprofit that supports survivors of interpersonal violence, for repairs to an emergency shelter. Founded in 1984, the organization has helped more than 37,000 survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse in Henderson County. “Safelight’s emergency shelter has assisted over 4,250 survivors of abuse since relocating in 2008,” said Lauren Wilkie, Safelight’s executive director. “The grant from the Community Foundation of Henderson County will give us the ability to repair the roof of our emergency shelter so we can continue to provide a safe environment for those fleeing abuse.”
  • The Daoist Traditions College of Chinese Medical Arts, an Asheville-based acupuncture and herbal medicine college, celebrated its 15th graduation on May 13. Students worked in a clinical setting throughout the pandemic and are graduating on time. The college undertook safety precautions, including daily disinfecting and social distancing, to remain open throughout the COVID-19 pandemic so students could continue their clinical education and see patients.

Free health support

  • This spring and summer, the YMCA of WNC will host free chronic disease management programs for area residents, including diabetes prevention classes. Both virtual and in-person classes will be offered in English and Spanish. More information and registration are available at avl.mx/9hv or by calling 828-575-2922. Additionally, YMCA Nutrition Services provides fresh, free produce at locations throughout the region via the Healthy Living Mobile Market. The Mobile Market schedule is available at avl.mx/9hx.

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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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