In the course of an unusually brief Nov. 8 public meeting, the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners quickly ran through an agenda that was lacking most of the usual components: no county manager’s report, no new or old business, no proclamations. No one rose to speak during the public-comment period, and even the consent agenda was shortened by one item lopped off at the last minute. That left little to be discussed or put to a vote.
In the meeting’s “good news” segment, Linda Kinney of the Buncombe County Medical Society and Lisa Eby of the Department of Social Services gave a PowerPoint presentation on the County’s ABC Kids Project. Funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the project examined why so many Buncombe County children end up in local emergency rooms instead of using the health-care programs designed to serve them. The principal causes, the two women reported, appear to be language barriers and parents’ failure to understand the purpose of different medical services. The project’s goals are to improve patient outcomes, reduce the number of emergency-room visits and cut the county’s health-care costs.
The project, said Kinney, has developed a checklist that parents or caregivers can use to evaluate what level of medical intervention is most appropriate in a given situation. Also included is information on how to gauge the severity of fevers. Through the county Health Center, the project has distributed a plastic-laminated version of the guidelines that clients can keep on the refrigerator door. At least 500 potential emergency-room visits have been redirected to urgent-care facilities, noted Kinney, cutting costs without affecting quality of care.
The program has also trained and hired interpreters for speakers of Spanish, Russian and Moldovan and plans to add other languages, reported Eby, citing several positive outcomes. People who’d felt barred from the health system because they don’t speak English have been able to get help in facilities other than the emergency room (where interpreters are always on duty). Jobs have been created for translators. And even after paying them, total health-care expenditures have been reduced. More than 150 non-English speakers have been helped by the program this year, said Eby.
Also bearing good tidings was Mary Clayton McLaughlin of the Cooperative Extension Service, who reported on the Helpful Hands, Healing Hearts program, developed in response to hurricane devastation in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.
“It started with a local 4-H member who saw a Beanie Baby with a 4-H logo pulled from the water in New Orleans,” said McLaughlin. “He decided he wanted to help 4-H’ers in New Orleans and began a personal relief effort.” To date, North Carolina 4-H Clubs have shipped goods worth more than $157,000 to the region, plus $16,000 in cash donations. “When the relief kits got to Louisiana, they took them to kids all over the state who were affected by the hurricanes,” she said.
The commissioners also reappointed Craig Madison to the Tourism Development Authority and appointed Commissioner Bill Stanley to the Civic Center Task Force.
The board then went into closed session to discuss a workers’ compensation case and a possible property acquisition and to consult with an attorney about the county’s lawsuit against Asheville concering the Regional Water Agreement (which was dissolved last June after the city withdrew).