Health System Seeks Community’s Help to Stop the Spread of COVID-19

BOONE, NC – In response to a drastic increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations at Watauga Medical Center (WMC), Appalachian Regional Healthcare System (ARHS) is asking for the community’s help.

On Monday, December 7, WMC had almost 80% of its COVID-19 beds occupied. “It’s certainly alarming when 27 of 34 available COVID-19 beds are full,” said Rob Hudspeth, Sr. Vice President for System Advancement for ARHS. “This week we opened 10 new COVID-19 beds, but we are now concerned that even 34 may not be enough,” he added.

As COVID-19 hospitalizations increase, the impact has a rippling effect on all hospital resources. Although ARHS has been stockpiling supplies since January, drastic surges in COVID-19 hospitalizations have caused it to use PPE, equipment and supplies at a much faster rate.

At the same time, non-COVID-19 hospital admissions are also increasing because many people with chronic and acute conditions are delaying routine healthcare. “So often now, when patients arrive at the Emergency Department they are sicker and require hospitalization, which strains our resources even more. Obviously more people in hospital beds means our staff are working more shifts. Their commitment to caring for our community has been remarkable. But we all need to be really concerned that our front line staff doesn’t experience extreme fatigue and burnout,” he added.

Among the most concerning trends for ARHS is the number of hospitalizations across the region. Two critical elements of ARHS’s original surge plan involved using critical care contract staffing and transferring appropriate patients to other hospitals. However, regional conference calls with other healthcare systems this week have revealed that very few contract staffing opportunities exist and the ability to transfer patients is non-existent. “Given that other hospitals are experiencing similar surges, it will be difficult to hire contract labor or transfer patients. So we fully expect this to be a series of challenges we’ll have to solve on our own,” Hudspeth added.

What Can the Community Do to Help?

  • Practice the 3Ws: Wear a mask, wash your hands often, and wait six feet apart.
  • Manage your health: Take your medications and do not delay medical care.
  • Get a flu shot to protect yourself and those around you.
  • Exercise, get enough sleep and eat a healthy diet.
  • Get a COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available.
Appalachian Regional Healthcare System

ARHS thanks local businesses and organizations for outpouring of support

BOONE, NC (November 20, 2020) – Coretta Scott King once said, “The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members.” If her theory is correct, then the High Country community is among the greatest. 

Like the rest of America’s healthcare systems, the COVID-19 pandemic has posed unprecedented challenges and unimaginable scenarios for Appalachian Regional Healthcare System (ARHS). While ARHS healthcare professionals worked the front line, local businesses, organizations and individuals immediately stepped up to help.  

They donated Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), such as N-95 masks, face shields, hand-sewn face coverings, hand sanitizer, and protective suits. They dropped off food, treats and special meals for employees. They offered special discounts or perks to ARHS employees, such as free soft drinks at their establishments. The Watauga and Avery County first responders and emergency personnel even paraded by Watauga Medical Center and Cannon Memorial Hospital in a show of solidarity and support. 

The healthcare team at ARHS has always stood ready to take care of the community. But it was profoundly touching when the community repeatedly came forward to help take care of them. For that support, the more than 1400 ARHS employees are forever grateful. It serves as a reminder that everyone is in this together, and ARHS is fortunate to be part of a community that feels that – and acts upon it.

The Appalachian Regional Healthcare Foundation and Employee Assistance Program worked with the following generous businesses, organizations and individuals who have shown support through donations of supplies and food. Everyone at ARHS would like to say a hearty “THANK YOU.”

App State Athletics, ASU Beaver College of Health Sciences – Nursing Department, ASU Chemistry Department, Art of Oil, Avery High School, Chris Barley, BB&T, Blue Ridge Energies, Bistro Roca, Boone Drug, Boone Girl Scout Troop 13115, Boone Paint, Bridgeman Dentistry, Call Family Distillers, Chick-fil-A, Clean Eatz, College Foundation of North Carolina, Cranberry Middle School, Creative Printing and Internet Services, Daniel Boone Inn, Frontier Natural Gas, Ashley Hampton, Adam Hill, DDS, Hope Pregnancy Center, Hospitality Mints, IND-Concepts, Insomnia Cookies, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Mast General Store, Mayland Community College, Edna McKinney, Mark Muhaw, Moltox, NC Department of Transportation, Precision Printing, Premier Sotheby’s International Realty – Banner Elk, Promo Savvy, Publix, Ransom Pub, Kelly Rucker, Rumple Memorial Presbyterian Church, Valerie Rush and Team, Samaritan’s Purse, Nicole Scheffler, DDS, Sherwin Williams, Spangler Restoration, Wal-Mart, Wilkes Community College, countless individuals who made and donated masks, and businesses who offered us special discounts or free drinks. 
The pandemic is not over yet. But one thing is certain: the High Country community will continue to come together as one in times of trial.

AppFamily Medicine to offer extended hours, same-day appointments, and walk-in clinic

Photo [left to right]: Dr. David Brendle, Dr. Charlie Baker, Dr. Kyle Wilson,
Dr. Molly Benedum, and Dr. Chris McCracken

AppFamily Medicine in Boone will offer extended hours, same-day appointments, and a Saturday walk-in clinic beginning September 14.

Monday-Friday, same-day appointments will be available 8:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. for new and established patients, and walk-ins are welcome 5:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. Regular appointments are also available for family medicine, pediatric and adolescent care, chronic disease management, behavioral health, women’s health, and more.

On Saturdays, the walk-in clinic will operate 8:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.

When it opened in November, 2019, AppFamily Medicine significantly increased access to primary care in the High Country. The intent of the practice was – and still is – to embody the concept of family medicine with the local community and truly become a “health and wellness home” for patients.

“Expanding the hours and services at AppFamily Medicine makes sense because it brings us closer to our purpose of being a full-service healthcare home for the entire family. With additional providers and extended hours, High Country families will be able to access the care they need when they need it,” said Dr. Molly Benedum, AppFamily physician and director of MAHEC Rural Family Medicine Residency Program.

The MAHEC Boone Rural Family Medicine Residency Program, which makes its home at Watauga Medical Center and AppFamily Medicine, recently welcomed four new doctors – its first group of residents. Acute care providers Laura Zimmerman, MD, and Gray Lackey, PA, will also be joining AppFamily, bringing the total number of providers and residents to twelve.

If experiencing the following conditions or symptoms, call (828) 386-2222 to make a same-day appointment, or come during walk-in hours to 148 Hwy 105 Extension, Suite 102 in Boone.

• Allergic Reactions
• Burns
• CDL Physicals
• Head Injuries
• Insect Bites
• Fever
• Flu
• Lacerations
• Muscle Injuries & Sprains
• Splinters & Other Foreign Objects
• TB testing
• Worker’s Comp
• Other non-life-threatening acute symptoms

Call 911 or go to your closest Emergency Room if you have a potentially life-threatening illness or injury, such as heart attack, stroke, or traumatic injury.

With the expansion of AppFamily Medicine’s same-day and walk-in care, AppUrgent Care Center in Boone will close on September 13th. The services offered at AppUrgent Care will then be available at AppFamily Medicine, with the exception of x-ray.

“We are excited to expand AppFamily Medicine to include services historically provided by AppUrgent Care. By transitioning these services to AppFamily Medicine, patients will have a comprehensive and seamless experience between urgent and primary care, and access to twelve providers with experience in pediatrics, women’s health, behavioral health, and more,” said Benedum.

For more information about AppFamily Medicine, visit apprhs.org/appfamily or call (828) 386-2222.

High Country Soccer Association Accepting Fall Registrations for U6-U10 Academy and U10-U15 Challenge Soccer

Is your child interested in learning the game of soccer? Or would your child like to continue to play but not quite ready to commit to travel soccer? High Country Soccer Association is accepting registrations for youth players ages U6 to U15 for the fall season. The U6, U8, and U10 Academy programs are designed to teach kids the fundamentals of soccer and prepare them for travel soccer. The U10-U15 Challenge programs are designed for kids who have aged out of Academy but are not ready to commit to travel soccer. 

Photo Credit: High Country Soccer Association

High Country Soccer Association follows strict guidelines set by NC Youth Soccer, US Youth Soccer, and FIFA to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. HCSA also follows state, county, and town restrictions, and works with AppHealthCare to safely protect players and families from contracting or spreading the virus. Protocols can be read at www.hcsoccer.com

All Academy and Challenge Soccer programs will be held at the Ted Mackorell Soccer Complex on Brookshire Road in Boone. Each team will be assigned a licensed, paid coach. HCSA, which opened in 1986, offers soccer training to youth ranging from U6 to U18 and competes in the North Carolina Youth Soccer Association. HCSA also operates adult leagues, winter futsal youth training, and summer camps. In all, HCSA has more than 600 youth players and more than 300 adult players from Avery, Ashe, Caldwell, Wilkes, and Watauga counties. 

2020 SPRING ACADEMY AND CHALLENGE FEES
U6 Academy: $65, 1 session per week, 6-week program, begins 8/31
U8 Academy: $80, 2 sessions per week, 8-week program, begins 9/1
U10 Academy: $195 (plus $60 for uniform kit if new to program), 3 sessions per week, 10-week program, begins 8/31
U9-U14 Challenge: $55, 2 sessions per week, 8-week program, begins 9/3 

U6 Academy is an age-appropriate, basic introduction to the game of soccer. It is a six-week program consisting of a weekly 45-minute session. Classes are offered on Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday. Sneakers or soccer cleats are appropriate footwear. Each player needs to wear shin guards and should bring a size 3 soccer ball and water bottle to each session. Practice begins August 31. 

U8 Academy is soccer with philosophy and curriculum taught by professional licensed coaches. It is an eight-week program consisting of a weekly practice (Tuesday) and weekly game (Friday). Soccer cleats are appropriate footwear. Each player needs to wear shin guards and should bring a size 3 soccer ball and water bottle to each session. Practice begins September 1. 

U10 Academy is more advanced than rec soccer and is an introduction to travel soccer. It is a 10-week program consisting of practice twice a week (Monday and Wednesday) and a weekly house match (Friday). There is also opportunity for Academy matches against similar Academy teams from clubs in our region of the state (limited travel, with the opt-out option to play on some Saturdays). Practice begins August 31. 

HCSA Challenge Soccer is a recreational league for players U9-U15. It is an 8-week program suitable for all levels of experience, including first-time players or those who are not ready to commit to travel soccer. This program meets twice per week consisting of a team practice and league game culminating in an end-of-season one-day tournament. Each team will be assigned a licensed, paid coach hired by HCSA. Coaches will follow a consistent curriculum for practices to ensure all players receive quality instruction from fun skill-building activities. Practice begins September 3. 

For more information or to register your child in HCSA Academy or Challenge soccer, please visit www.hcsoccer.com or email office@hcsoccer.com.

School and sports physicals: Important whether learning in-person or remotely

We appreciate Dr. Kyle Wilson from AppFamily Medicine sharing this information with us.

Now more than ever, it is important that all school-aged children and adolescents obtain a school or sports physical. One of the primary benefits of this visit is to help students and their families better understand how they can stay well as our nation continues to respond to the COVID-19 crisis.

A school physical is designed to cover many different components that make up a student’s overall health and wellbeing.

  • screening students for heart related problems
  • assessing vaccination status
  • addressing conditions that could require a treatment plan prior to returning to school
  • vision and hearing screening
  • addressing potential developmental and behavioral concerns
  • other factors that affect a student’s well-being and educational success.

Getting ready for the school/sports physical visit

Prior to the visit, it will be helpful to think through your student’s past medical history and existing medical problems. Filling out any patient paperwork for your provider will help guide you on what type of information to include.

An important part of a student’s medical history includes family history of any potential heart-related problems as well as specific pediatric diseases. It will be helpful if parents or guardians are able to tell the provider if the patient has any family members who have passed away at a young age due to a heart-related condition. This will help the provider assess the student’s risk of heart-related issues.

Setting students up for success

Another important part of a school physical involves addressing the student’s exercise tolerance. Does the student become mildly short of breath upon exercising only for a few minutes? Can the student participate in exercise activities similar to other students in his or her class? Questions like these can help the provider assess many different things such as screening the patient for asthma and musculoskeletal disorders.

The school physical also provides the opportunity for parents or guardians to discuss potential concerns regarding the student’s behavior or development. Learning disorders often go unidentified through adolescence. It is important that each student is empowered with the opportunity to perform at his or her best level. The doctor can help identify, manage and make any assessment referrals for possible conditions such as hearing and vision loss, ADHD, learning disabilities, and more.

Occasionally, accommodations are needed so that students can meet their academic potential. Earlier identification gives opportunities for earlier interventions, if needed. A school physical is an excellent opportunity to better understand how the student can ultimately be given the best chance to meet his or her aspirations.

We can help

At AppFamily Medicine, Baker Center for Primary Care, and Davant Medical Clinic*, we desire to be a medical home for the entire family – infant, pediatric, adolescent and adult (*Davant Medical Clinic sees patients 6 years and older). This includes helping students and their families get ready for the coming academic school year and have confidence that students’ medical needs are addressed. We look forward to serving you and your family as the coming academic year approaches with its own particular challenges.

Call your child’s primary care provider or one of the following practices to schedule a school physical. You can also request an appointment online.

An Insider Interview with AppFamily Medicine

We have received questions about the new family medicine practice, AppFamily Medicine, in Boone. Thankfully, we were able to go straight to the source to get an insider view of the practice and more information about the new Boone Rural Family Medicine Residency Program.

Dr. Kyle Wilson was gracious to answer our questions.

This is excellent news to hear that the High Country has a medical practice that will see your entire family no matter the age. Also, the comfort of knowing that the hospital will have family medicine residents on-call 24/7 is reassuring for all families.

Molly Benedum, M.D., Director of the Boone Rural Family Medicine Residency Program commented: “We are enormously excited to welcome the first class of residents whom we are especially pleased are all from North Carolina. Their interest in our program indicates their strong commitment to spending their careers meeting the primary healthcare needs of communities across the state. We look forward to what they will accomplish in the years to come and to welcoming them to the High Country this summer.”

The Boone Rural Family Medicine Residency Program, located at Watauga Medical Center, is a partnership between ARHS, Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC) and the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. The program was created to train full-scope family doctors to serve in rural and underserved communities. Resident training will take three years, and ARHS is hopeful that many residents will choose to continue their careers in the High Country.

For appointments at AppFamily Medicine, please visit their website. Please let us know if you have other questions about family medicine that you would like for High Country Parent to address in the future.

ARHS expands access to care through new telehealth program

Appalachian Regional Healthcare System (ARHS) has launched a new telehealth program to ensure patients have safe, convenient access to their providers during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. Through telehealth visits, patients can meet with a healthcare provider using a computer or mobile device from the safety of their own homes. Telehealth is most appropriate for routine visits such as simple acute care (sick visits), follow-up, wellness visits, and behavioral health concerns like depression, anxiety or grief.

Pictured below: Dr. Price of Davant Medical Clinic in Blowing rock with his medical office assistant Lacon Parsons, CMA.

Appalachian Regional Medical Associates providers have been piloting the program and are pleased with the results. Telehealth appointments are available throughout the week during regular office hours. In-person appointments will be alternated with telehealth appointments to limit the number of patients in each office in accordance with social distancing guidelines.

“We are incredibly proud of our providers and staff for moving quickly to implement this telehealth program for the benefit of our patients,” said Dr. Danielle Mahaffey, Chief Physician Executive, “They were asked to drastically adapt how they practice medicine, completed training, and began seeing patients within 14 days.”

During the telehealth visit, if the healthcare provider determines that an in-person visit is needed, they will stop the virtual visit and schedule the patient for an in-person appointment. The patient and their insurance will not be billed for the telehealth visit if an in-person appointment is required.

The first ARHS providers to utilize telehealth visits were Dr. David Kimmel of Elk River Medical Associates, Dr. Lynda Gioia-Flynt of Harmony Center for Women, Dr. Jason Crawford of Baker Center for Primary Care, and Dr. David Brendle of AppFamily Medicine. Since its launch, the program has expanded to about 30 providers throughout the healthcare system.

Dr. Steven Anderson, orthopedic surgeon at AppOrtho has been participating in telehealth visits with his patients. Patients of all ages were easily able to log on and complete the telehealth visit. “For a time like this, it’s a great way to communicate with patients while abiding by social distancing guidelines,” said Anderson, “There are also instances where telehealth makes sense in general, such as reviewing MRI results.” According to Anderson, every patient he has seen via telehealth has enjoyed the visit.

For Dr. Lynda Gioia-Flynt of Harmony Center for Women, telehealth is appropriate for things like medication follow up, contraception counseling, procreative counseling, STD prevention and exposure counseling, postpartum depression and postoperative visits with incision checks.

“Telemedicine has helped bridge the gaps that would occur otherwise with social distancing,“ said Gioia-Flynt, “If we delay too many visits we could not only miss caring for our patients now, but also might over-burden the system later once restrictions lighten.”

“The telehealth visits felt more personal than I anticipated, and I was able to really connect with my patients well through the platform,” said Dr. Grasinger, a gynecologist at Davant Medical Clinic in Blowing Rock, “This option is safer for patient as well as staff, and patients have been happy with the visits.”

Patients will not need to download apps or software to participate. To request a telehealth visit, patients should call the office directly or request an appointment online as if they were scheduling an in-person appointment.

While the telehealth program was launched as a way to increase access to care during the COVID-19 pandemic, we hope to continue in the future as a safe, convenient way to receive care at any time. ARHS is continually looking for new ways to serve the community and telehealth is the latest result of that commitment.

How does a telehealth visit work?

  1. The patient should call the office or request an appointment online just as if they were scheduling an in-person appointment.
  2. At the time of the visit, they will receive an email with a link and instructions for how to join the visit.

Which patients can request a telehealth visit and for what types of visits? Telehealth visits are available for patients who do not require a physical exam. Patients must reside in North Carolina and have reliable internet access, an email address, and a device with a camera and microphone such as a smartphone, computer or tablet.

Providers can usually address the following types of issues through telehealth:

  • Medication management/refill visits
  • Wellness visits
  • Follow-up visits
  • Simple acute (sick) visits
  • Allergies
  • Upper respiratory symptoms
  • Rashes
  • Sore throat
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Behavioral health visits

Which practices and outpatient clinics offer telehealth options? The following practices and outpatient clinics currently offer telehealth services. More clinics may add the service in the future. Call the office or clinic to ask about specific offerings.

Appalachian Regional Medical Associates

  • Appalachian Regional Internal Medicine Specialists (828) 386-2746
  • Appalachian Regional Pulmonology (828) 386-2200
  • AppFamily Medicine (828) 386-2222
  • AppGastro (828) 264-0029
  • AppOrtho (828) 386-2663
  • Baker Center for Primary Care (828) 737-7711
  • Davant Medical Clinic (828) 386-3350
  • Elk River Medical Associates (828) 898-5177
  • Harmony Center for Women (828) 268-8970
  • Tate Clinic (828) 737-7917
  • Watauga Surgical Group (828) 264-2340

Cannon Memorial Hospital

  • Appalachian Regional Outpatient Behavioral Health (828) 737-7888

Watauga Medical Center

  • The Cardiology Center (828) 264-9664

First look into the new Watauga Recreation Center Aquatics Facility

Assistant Aquatics Director, Kyle Disney, shows the great view from the 20 foot crazy eight slide on the Watauga Recreation Center’s Twitter account.

Doesn’t that look like so much fun? Also, the official membership rates are as follows.

Opening day will be announced at a later date as the Recreation Center staff continue to monitor the situation of COVID-19 outbreak.

Playgrounds, courts, picnic shelters in Watauga closed until further notice

BOONE — Watauga County, in conjunction with the towns of Beech Mountain, Blowing Rock, Boone and Seven Devils, will be closing all playgrounds, recreational courts and picnic shelters, effective Monday, March 30, at noon until further notice.

“This is a preventive measure to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus and lessen its impact on our community,” AppHealthCare, the regional public health department, stated. “As this situation evolves rapidly, Watauga County and partner municipalities will continue monitoring usage of recreation facilities to determine if further action is warranted for social distancing. The county is taking precautions to ensure the health and safety of its residents during this rapidly changing situation.”

This closure also applies to school playgrounds. Child care facilities will still operate as they are exempt from this closure.

These new guidelines will be incorporated as part of the existing Watauga County state of emergency that is currently in effect through the course of this public health emergency.

“During this difficult time, we recognize everyone will need an outlet for physical exercise to help manage stress and support their overall physical health,” said Deron Geouque, county manager, in a statement. “Therefore, we have kept the use of trail and walking areas open for now. However, we are encouraging people to continue to avoid using any facility if they feel ill, have a fever (or) a cough and to keep six feet between themselves and others.”

Amid warmer weather over the weekend, several reports and photos circulated on social media of large gatherings of people at popular swimming holes, including along the Watauga River.

“It is becoming clear to us that there are some in our community that are not taking this risk seriously, said Jennifer Greene, health director. “Please, I cannot stress enough how critical it is for you to help protect all of us through your actions. Governor Cooper’s updated executive order clearly bans gatherings of 10 or more people starting Monday, March 30. We expect people to follow this order to help protect the entire community. Now is the time to think of others and know that this illness can be severe.”

People at high risk include anyone who:

– Is 65 years of age or older
– Lives in a nursing home or long-term care facility
– Have a high-risk condition that includes: Chronic lung disease or moderate to severe asthma; Heart disease with complications; Compromised immune system; Severe obesity – body mass index (BMI) of 40 or higher; or Other underlying medical conditions, particularly if not well controlled, such as diabetes, renal failure or liver disease

People who are at high risk should stay home to the greatest extent possible to decrease the chance of infection, the department said.

AppHealthCare is available and on-call 24/7 to respond to public health emergencies. To reach them, call (828) 264-4995 anytime and follow the prompts. Visit www.AppHealthCare.com or follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

Questions from agencies requesting support on COVID-19 response, planning efforts, etc. can contact preparedness@apphealth.com.

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) has more information at cdc.gov/coronavirus. North Carolina resources can be found on the Division of Public Health website at ncdhhs.gov/coronavirus.

A COVID-19 toll free helpline has been set up to answer general, non-emergent questions at 1-866-462-3821. To submit questions online, go to www.ncpoisoncontrol.org and select “chat.”

ARHS rolls out a new way to be screened for COVID-19

High Country Families, please read the new screening process for the High Country. Please continue to practice social distancing so we can all do our part in stopping the spread of this virus.

If you suspect that you may have COVID-19, we have arranged a safe, convenient, and cost-effective option for your screening, so that you can avoid unnecessary hospital or clinic visits.

1. Connect with RelyMD online at relymd.com/covidarhs on your computer or mobile device.

Please use Coupon Code: BEWELLARHS for your $49 visit. Your initial screening will be with a board-certified physician who will determine if your symptoms require you to be tested.

2. If the RelyMD physician determines that you meet the criteria for testing, he/she will help you make your appointment at a testing location in Watauga or Avery County.

Go to the testing location at your appointed time. Please DO NOT travel to the testing location without an appointment.

Once you arrive, a staff member will meet you curbside at your vehicle and administer the tests — no need to get out of your car. Your test will be sent to a lab for confirmation. You’ll be instructed to self-quarantine until your test results are returned.

3. If your test is positive for COVID-19, you will need to be isolated for 14 days.

The testing facility will provide education for you and your family whether you test positive for the virus or not.

By using this simple screening and testing process, we can screen you as quickly as possible while keeping our community safe and healthy. Thank you for helping to stop the spread of the virus.