Health roundup: Buncombe receives early childhood health report, musical garden opens at Charles D. Owen Park

Infant mortality rates in Buncombe County
COLOR GAP: Buncombe County's mortality rate for African American infants is nearly four times that for white babies, a disparity that has worsened since 2012. Graphic courtesy of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services

State report compares Buncombe’s early childhood health benchmarks

As part of its Early Childhood Action Plan, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services released reports on over 50 measures of health outcomes for every county in North Carolina on Nov. 12. Buncombe County’s report showed many numbers in line with the rest of the state but some that bode poorly for the county’s youngest residents.

Among Buncombe’s biggest differences with other counties was the mortality rate among its black infants. While 12.7 African American babies die during the first year of life per 1,000 live births on average in North Carolina, that number is 19.6 per 1,000 in Buncombe County. Moreover, the county’s rate has doubled since 2012, when it was 9.8 per 1,000.

Buncombe bested other counties on metrics such as early childhood wellness visits, asthma care, injury emergency room visits and childhood reading ability. Members of the county’s Health and Human Services presented an update on the Community Health Improvement Plan, which includes lowering infant mortality as one of two key targets (alongside improving mental health), to the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners on Dec. 3.

New musical garden opens at Charles D. Owen Park

Charles D. Owen Park musical garden
BANG A DRUM: The instruments installed at Charles D. Owen Park in Swannanoa include “four colorful flower gongs, lilypad cymbals and a tenor tree.” Photo courtesy of Buncombe County

Buncombe County residents can enjoy the sounds of music and nature together at Charles D. Owen Park in Swannanoa, which recently installed a collection of instruments developed by Freenotes Harmony Park. The outdoor play space, supported by a 2019 AARP Community Change grant, is designed for accessibility to users of all ages and abilities.

“Music has positive effects on learning, memory and our ability to grow as caring and connected individuals,” wrote Josh O’Conner, director of Buncombe’s recreation services, in a press release announcing the garden. “This space will be further enhanced throughout the next several months with tiles along the existing path created by community members with themes of compassion, peace and diversity. There are no bad notes when you harmoniously blend the positive power of music and community.”

SEARCH announces nonprofit plans

SEARCH, which advocates for rural health care in Mitchell and Yancey counties, shared its goals for the coming year at a Nov. 14 meeting in Spruce Pine. After playing a large role in discussions around the sale of Mission Health to HCA Healthcare, the community group hopes to incorporate as a formal nonprofit and incubate health projects throughout the region.

In a press release, SEARCH co-leader Susan Larson wrote that seeking nonprofit status would allow the group to broaden its scope by raising grant funds, which it could use to research charity care options for uninsured and low-income residents. She noted that SEARCH will also continue to monitor local issues such as ambulance service in Mitchell and Yancey counties, HCA contracts for which are set to expire next year. More information is available at

Medical moves

  • Zandra Wingfield
    HELLO, NURSE: Zandra Wingfield, right, was hired as the first full-time school nurse at Summit Charter School in Cashiers thanks to a grant from the Highland Cashiers Health Foundation. Photo courtesy of Summit Charter School

    Dr. Joshua Wu joined Harris Regional Hospital in Sylva to address what the hospital called “the overwhelming need for orthopaedic care in our region.” Wu, who completed a fellowship at MAHEC in Asheville, will also offer sports medicine services at Harris.

  • AdventHealth Hendersonville tapped Kevin Morgan as its director of operations for physician services. Morgan was previously the practice manager at the system’s Laurel Park location.
  • Zandra Wingfield was hired as the first full-time school nurse at Summit Charter School in Cashiers. Her position was funded entirely by the Highland Cashiers Health Foundation, a successor foundation founded earlier this year as a result of Highlands-Cashiers Hospital Mission Health’s sale to HCA Healthcare.
  • In a decision that may bring more health professionals to Western North Carolina, AdvisorSmith ranked Asheville as the No. 10 midsized city for doctors. The city was also ranked No. 20 overall in a list of 317 municipal areas.

Tips of the hat

  • The Black Mountain Neuro-Medical Center was named North Carolina’s best nursing home in rankings recently compiled by Newsweek, beating out over 400 other facilities in the state. The center caters to people with chronic, complex conditions who often cannot be admitted to other nursing homes.
  • Steven Solana, a physical therapist at the Brooks-Howell Home in Asheville, received the Paul Diaz Caring Award from Kindred Healthcare. In a press release announcing the award, which was given to just two of Kindred’s nearly 34,000 employees, the company praised Solana’s “extraordinary level of skill, compassion and empathy.”
  • For the seventh consecutive year, AdventHealth Hendersonville was recognized as among 2019’s Most Wired Health Systems by the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives. The award recognizes the system’s use of technology to improve community health care.
  • AdventHealth Hendersonville nurse Lindsey Philon received The DAISY Award for her work in the health system’s maternity facility, The Baby Place. Philon was nominated by a patient who commended the nurse for her “family-oriented and personal” approach.

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About Daniel Walton
Daniel Walton is the former news editor of Mountain Xpress. His work has also appeared in Sierra, The Guardian, and Civil Eats, among other national and regional publications. Follow me @DanielWWalton

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