On Wednesday April 8, Appalachian Regional Healthcare System (ARHS) was notified by AppHealthCare (the health department) that an ARHS employee who had recently traveled has tested positive for COVID-19.
The employee did not provide direct patient care, has been in quarantine and is recovering at home. Additionally, ARHS has been working with the health department to identify other staff who may have been in contact with the employee who tested positive. Each of these employees has also self-quarantined.
“As a healthcare organization operating in accordance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), we take very seriously our commitment to preserving protected health information and respecting the privacy of individuals infected by the virus,” said Rob Hudspeth, Senior Vice President for Appalachian Regional Healthcare System.
ARHS will continue to work closely with AppHealthCare and local, state, and national health officials to ensure we are taking the strongest possible precautions to keep employees and patients safe.
For more information about Appalachian Regional Healthcare System’s COVID-19 response, please visit apprhs.org/covid19/.
Lindsey Henley, FNP-C of AppGastro with her medical office assistant Kayla Welch, CMA
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.
Dr. Anderson of AppOrtho with his medical office assistant Amelia Lowe- 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
Dr. Price of Davant Medical Clinic with his medical office assistant Lacon Parsons, CMA
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.
Pictured below are some of our providers, joined by their medical office assistants, who have enjoyed telehealth visits with their patients so far.
Dr. Califf of AppOrtho with Susan Young, RN
Dr. Chidester of Baker Center for Primary Care with Leslie Pollard, MOA
Dr. Stark of Appalachian Regional Internal Medicine Specialists with Tracey Berner, MOA
Amber Stern, NP-C of The Cardiology Center
Sarah Seaver, MSN, NP of Baker Center for Primary Care
Dr. Smith of Appalachian Regional Internal Medicine Specialists with Hailey Beshears, CMA
Dr. Parker of AppOrtho with Kaitlyn Walker, CMA
Dr. Bullers of AppOrtho with Brandy Rawson, CMA
Shauna Stadelmaier, PA-C of AppOrtho with Santana Buchanan, CMA
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
Simple acute (sick) visits
Upper respiratory symptoms
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.
AppHealthCare and Appalachian Regional Healthcare System (ARHS) are following the guidance for use of cloth masks or face coverings by the general public as issued by the recommendations recently issued by the CDC. The CDC recommends “wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies) especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.”
“We know that community transmission is occurring in North Carolina and even though we have a lower number of identified cases in our communities at this time, we believe additional tools should be added to our toolbox to help lessen the effects of COVID-19. The use of cloth masks or face coverings by the general public should not replace social distancing and other everyday prevention measures like handwashing, covering your cough or sneeze or staying home when you are sick,” stated Jennifer Greene, Health Director, AppHealthCare.
“The use of cloth masks makes so much sense toward combating the spread of COVID-19. As such, we encourage everyone to use them, particularly in public locations where social distancing is difficult to maintain,” stated Rob Hudspeth, Senior Vice President, Appalachian Regional Healthcare System (ARHS).
The use of cloth face coverings will not protect you from other people’s germs. It is meant to protect other people in case you are infected. This would be important if someone is infected with COVID-19 but does not have symptoms. According to the CDC, recent studies have suggested that COVID-19 may be spread by people who are not showing symptoms (asymptomatic or presymptomatic). This is why it remains important for people to stay home as much as possible and only go out for essential trips.
Important Points about Cloth Masks and Face Coverings
They should cover your nose and mouth.
They can be worn when out in public where you may be near people like grocery stores or pharmacies.
They are not a substitute for social distancing. People should still keep 6 feet of distance and stay home to the greatest extent possible.
They can be made from household items with common materials at low cost.
They should not be used on children under the age of 2, people who have trouble breathing or anyone who would be unable to remove the covering without assistance.
They should be routinely washed depending on the frequency of use. You can wash the face covering in the washing machine.
After you remove a cloth covering from your face, you should be careful not to touch your face and wash your hands immediately after removing.
Due to the short supply of personal protective equipment (PPE), surgical masks and N95 respirators should be reserved for healthcare workers and other first responders. A healthcare worker or first responder should continue to use surgical masks and N95 respirators since these provide better protection from infectious diseases.
We are encouraging people to protect themselves to help lessen the spread of COVID-19 in our communities. There are many ways we can all protect ourselves and our communities.
How to Protect Yourself
Practice social distancing which means avoiding gatherings of more than 10 people, keeping 6 feet or more between you and others and remaining at home to the greatest extent possible
Frequent hand washing
Stay home when you’re sick
Keep distance from others who are sick
Avoid touching your face
Clean and disinfect high touch surfaces in common areas like doorknobs, remotes, lightswitches, tables and handles
Wear cloth mask or face covering when out in public where you may be around people like grocery stores or pharmacies
If you have surgical masks or N95 respirators and are willing to donate them, they can be dropped off at the front entrance of Charles A. Cannon, Jr. Memorial Hospital in Linville or at the security checkpoint at Watauga Medical Center in Boone.
We appreciate those in our community who are willing and able to make homemade face coverings.
AppHealthCare is available and on-call 24/7 to respond to public health emergencies. To reach us, call (828) 264-4995 anytime and follow the prompts. We will continue to monitor COVID-19 in our community and will work to keep the public informed. Please visit our website for more information – www.AppHealthCare.com. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
Appalachian Regional Healthcare System (ARHS) is seeking donations of alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
“Our normal suppliers are not able to keep up with the demand and have cancelled the orders we placed previously,” said Rob Hudspeth, Sr. Vice President for ARHS.
Businesses or individuals with extra hand sanitizer are asked to help. We will gladly accept gifts of any size or container of hand sanitizer, including travel size bottles and spray pens. Donations must be alcohol-based, not homemade, and contain at least 60% alcohol.
If you have hand sanitizer to donate, please bring it to the security checkpoint at Watauga Medical Center or the front entrance at Cannon Memorial Hospital. If you have questions, please contact Brian Whitfield at firstname.lastname@example.org or 828-262-9105.
The third Friday of each March is known as Match Day in the medical school community. Match Day culminates a long process which “matches” soon to be medical school graduates with programs offering residency training. This year, Appalachian Regional Healthcare System (ARHS) was a part of Match Day as they prepare to welcome the inaugural class of medical residents to the new Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC) Boone Rural Family Medicine Residency Program that begins in June.
Molly Benedum, M.D., Director of the MAHEC 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 following residents from the Class of 2023 will join the MAHEC Boone Rural Family Medicine Residency Program this summer:
John Cunningham, M.D.
Fayetteville, NC Dr. Cunningham received his undergraduate degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is attending The University of North Carolina School of Medicine.
Jeb Fox, M.D.
Bethel, NC Dr. Fox received his undergraduate degree from North Carolina State University and is attending The University of North Carolina School of Medicine.
Erinn Murphy, D.O.
Dr. Murphy received her undergraduate degree from The University of North Carolina at Greensboro and is attending The Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine-Virginia.
Lindsey Shapiro, D.O.
Davidson, NC Dr. Shapiro received her undergraduate degree from Appalachian State University and is attending The Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine-Carolinas.
Emergency Department staff with Chuck Mantooth, 2019
On Thursday March 27, Appalachian Regional Healthcare System (ARHS) announced a new supplemental pay program, called COVID Days Off (CDO) to assist full time and part time employees whose hours have been reduced due to the COVID-19 crisis.
Patient volume in ARHS hospitals and clinics has been drastically reduced, which means employees may be asked to work fewer hours.
Chuck Mantooth, President and CEO, said that the reduction in patient volumes was self-imposed, stating, “over the past two weeks, in preparation for a potential surge in COVID-19 cases, we chose to postpone elective procedures, surgeries and routine office visits in our clinics. Effectively, we set aside much of what we normally do to deal with COVID-19. Due to this decline, we asked some employees to take time off.”
The CDO program gives employees an opportunity to work in other areas at ARHS, when their regular hours are reduced. It also allows them to earn their same rate of pay, regardless of the new assignment. If an alternative assignment cannot be found, employees who have agreed to participate in the CDO program automatically receive CDO pay up to their normal compensation amount. Employee participation in CDO is by choice. In lieu of CDO, employees may also use accrued paid time off. Currently the CDO program will be offered through April 18, 2020.
“The purpose of CDO is to ensure that ARHS employees have a full paycheck, as we work together against COVID-19,” said Mantooth. “Right now our employees are experiencing so much stress related to COVID-19. Hopefully this program will help relieve their financial strain until economic relief is available.”