The co-responder unit from the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office and Emergency Medical Services will focus on mental health calls, welfare checks and involuntary commitments.
Four firefighters compose the team — two primarily reaching out to people who may be unhoused or experiencing a behavioral health issue, and two primarily meeting with downtown business owners to address their needs and concerns.
While COVID-19 may have dominated WNC’s psyche in 2021, it was by no means the only health and wellness story Xpress told. Opioid abuse, mental health and self-care also emerged as major themes from the year.
The largest single grant of $4 million will support broadband infrastructure expansion in unserved areas of the county. Brownie Newman, chair of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners, said that investment would leverage an additional $6 million from the state of North Carolina and private broadband providers.
Buncombe County experienced a 147% increase in overdose deaths between 2015 and 2017, the most recent period for which data is available from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. According to Emergency Services, Buncombe averages six-to-eight deaths monthly from probable overdoses.
COVID-19 vaccination initiatives announced by the county include a drive-thru site for second doses at A. C. Reynolds High School and a waitlist for first-dose vaccination appointments. The waitlist will replace a system that requires residents to schedule appointments directly as vaccines became available.
Although a case of the disease caused by the novel coronavirus had previously been reported in a visitor to Buncombe County on March 16, the two newly announced cases are the first to be confirmed in residents of Buncombe and its surrounding counties.
Jones previously worked as the emergency services director in Anderson County, S.C., for almost 12 years and replaces outgoing Emergency Services Director Jerry VeHaun, who announced his retirement in December after serving in that role since 1972.