Appalachian Regional Healthcare System’s first COVID-19 vaccines were administered on Tuesday, December 22 at Watauga Medical Center. Occupational health nurse, Crystal Minton, RN, vaccinated Kevin Wolfe, MD, a pulmonologist who is treating COVID patients at the hospital, followed by Emergency Department nurse Madison Bakken, RN.
Kevin W. Wolfe, MD, Pulmonologist Watauga Medical Center, receives the vaccine from ARHS Occupational Health Nurse Crystal Minton.
“We feel so fortunate to be able to begin vaccinating our frontline workers who are taking care of COVID patients each day,” said Chuck Mantooth, President and CEO of ARHS. “Protecting them means they will stay healthy and continue to be available for the community.”
There was an air of excitement in the room as Dr. Wolfe received his dose, and those within view erupted in applause. Many healthcare workers see these vaccinations as a first step in defeating this virus, and have a renewed sense of hope.
When asked why Dr. Wolfe decided to take the vaccine, he stated, “When you look at the risk and you look at the benefit of taking the vaccination, I believe the benefits far outweigh the risks.” Dr. Wolfe is proud to be a role model for the rest of the community in taking this important step to fight the pandemic.
Madison Bakken, RN, Emergency Department Watauga Medical Center receives the vaccine
“I’m incredibly honored to have had this opportunity,” said Bakken. “Today is the first glimmer of hope for us in this dark year.” Madison said she is proud to receive the vaccine in support of her fellow healthcare workers and excited that one day soon she may be able to safely embrace her parents and loved ones again.
The State of North Carolina’s plan to distribute COVID-19 vaccines
North Carolina is currently in Phase 1a of the state’s four-phase plan, which calls for vaccines to be available to healthcare workers and long-term care staff and residents. Phase 1b calls for vaccinating adults at highest risk of severe illness and those at highest risk for exposure according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS). Those seeking more information about the state vaccine distribution plan should visit covid19.ncdhhs.gov/vaccines.
For more information about the ARHS COVID-19 situation, including testing and vaccination, visit: apprhs.org/covid19/.
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
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.
Avery County Emergency Services Parade at Cannon Memorial Hospital
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.”
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.
App State Athletics
ASU Beaver College of Health Sciences – Nursing Department
ASU Chemistry Department
Art of Oil
Avery High School
Blue Ridge Energies
Boone Girl Scout Troop 13115
Call Family Distillers
College Foundation of North Carolina
Cranberry Middle School
Creative Printing and Internet Services
Daniel Boone Inn
Frontier Natural Gas
Adam Hill, DDS
Hope Pregnancy Center
Kentucky Fried Chicken
Mast General Store
Mayland Community College
NC Department of Transportation
Premier Sotheby’s International Realty – Banner Elk
Rumple Memorial Presbyterian Church
Valerie Rush and Team
Nicole Scheffler, DDS
Wilkes Community College
Countless individuals who made and donated masks
Many businesses who offered us special discounts or free drinks.
Anyone with symptoms of COVID-19 or who has been exposed to someone with COVID-19 should consider getting tested. NCDHHS issued updated guidance on who should be tested for COVID-19. The new guidance recommends that clinicians test any patient in whom COVID-19 is suspected.
Symptoms include: fever/chills, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, muscle/body aches, headache, new loss of taste/smell, sore throat, congestion, runny nose, nausea/vomiting and/or diarrhea.
If you are experiencing severe, life threatening symptoms (for example, severe difficulty breathing, altered thinking, blue lips), seek immediate medical care or call 9-1-1.
How to get tested
DO NOT come to the Emergency Department for COVID-19 symptoms unless you have trouble breathing. For non-life-threatening symptoms, call your primary care provider, health department, urgent care, or telemedicine provider.
With referral from a healthcare provider, you may be tested through ARHS.
If you are sick and unsure if you should get tested, please call your primary healthcare provider or one of the medical offices below.
1. Call a healthcare provider
If you do not have a provider, you may call one of the offices below.
2. Provider refers for testing, if needed
If the provider 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. Please DO NOT travel to the testing location without an appointment.
3. Follow instructions after testing
If your test is positive for COVID-19, you will need to be isolated for up to 14 days. The testing facility will provide education for you and your family whether you test positive for the virus or not.
ARHS provider visits (in-person or telehealth) will be covered by your insurance just as a normal office visit would. If testing is needed, it will be billed separately.
If you do not have health insurance:
Call your nearest Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC). If you feel you may have COVID-19, be sure to disclose that when you call to obtain an appointment. FQHCs are community-based health care providers that receive federal funds to provide needed health services in communities across the state.
Apply for Financial Assistance with Appalachian Regional Healthcare System. Call the Financial Counseling Office at (828) 262-4110.
COVID-19 Diagnostic Test Cash Price: $98
Initial office visit is NOT included in the COVID-19 cash price. During the COVID-19 emergency period declared by the Public Health Act, providers are required to make public the cash prices for the diagnostic test for COVID-19 [Reference: CARES Act Sec. 3202].
NOTE: All healthcare providers and testing facilities are required to report all positive results to the health department.
Photo (left to right): Captain Kelly Redmon, Chief Deputy for the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office, Sheriff Len Hagaman, Watauga County Sheriff’s Office, Chuck Mantooth, President & CEO of Appalachian Regional Healthcare System, Andy Le Beau, Police Chief of Boone Police Department, and Aaron Miller, Police Chief of Blowing Rock Police Department.
On Friday, June 26, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper’s executive order went into effect requiring face masks be worn in public spaces where physical distancing of six feet is not possible. To help the community adhere to this requirement, Appalachian Regional Healthcare System (ARHS) donated 800 washable, reusable cloth face masks for local law enforcement officers to distribute as needed. Face masks will soon be donated to Avery County law enforcement officers as well.
The donated face masks will enable law enforcement officers to use a problem-solving approach to the enforcement of the order, offering a face mask to those without one. Hopefully, these additional mask resources can turn a potential confrontation into an opportunity to help keep the community safe.
“We realize that we have a role to play in supporting our law enforcement officers who are responsible for enforcing the mask requirement,” said Chuck Mantooth, President and CEO of ARHS. “This is a good opportunity for us to give back to the community and reinforce the importance of the three Ws – wearing a mask, waiting six feet apart, and washing hands.”
ARHS, Appalachian District Health Department (AppHealthCare), and other local businesses have been partnering to promote the “Show Your Love” campaign, highlighting the importance of following the three Ws. “At this time it is imperative that our community continue to come together to help stop the spread of COVID-19, and ARHS is committed to doing what we can,” Mantooth said.
“Boone Police are grateful for our partnership with ARHS. It is our duty to respond to violations of the Governor’s Executive Order requiring masks to be worn in many circumstances,” said Andy Le Beau, Chief of Police of the Boone Police Department. “The first part of our duty is to educate citizens about the requirement. With the masks supplied by ARHS we can now hand them a mask as well as provide education. We have many visitors from other areas who simply are not informed about the requirements. This supply of masks not only makes our job easier, but helps make our community safer.”
According to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, “law enforcement personnel cannot criminally enforce the face covering requirements of this order against individual workers, customers, or patrons. However, if a business or organization does not allow entry to a worker, customer, or patron because that person refuses to wear a face covering, and if that worker, customer, or patron enters the premises or refuses to leave the premises, law enforcement personnel may enforce the trespassing laws.”
To learn more about how ARHS is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, visit apprhs.org/covid19.
On Tuesday, April 28, Appalachian Regional Healthcare System (ARHS) began requiring masks for all who enter an ARHS facility. This new requirement applies to all employees, even those in non-clinical areas, patients and vendors. Additionally, in those rare instances where visitors may be allowed inside an ARHS facility, they too will be required to wear a face mask.
“We understand it may feel different to wear a mask. However, the smallest things can sometimes make the biggest difference,” said Chuck Mantooth, President and CEO of Appalachian Regional Healthcare System. “Masks help prevent people spreading COVID-19 to others before they know they are sick, and we all have a part to play in protecting each other. Our employees are leading by example because we deeply care about our community. We will continue to adapt and do everything we can to ensure the health and safety our patients, staff, vendors and visitors.”
Why is ARHS implementing this requirement?
The CDC updated their recommendations for healthcare personnel on April 13 by communicating, “as part of source control efforts, healthcare personnel should wear a face mask at all times, while they are in the healthcare facility.”
The Joint Commission also believes that universal masking within healthcare settings is a critical tool to protect staff and patients from being infected by asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic individuals and should be implemented in any community where coronavirus is occurring.
What type of face mask is required and how can I get one?
Patients will be encouraged to arrive wearing a cloth face mask. If they do not, they will be provided with a cloth (or OSHA approved yellow) face mask when they enter the entry checkpoints at Watauga Medical Center (WMC) and Cannon Memorial Hospital (CMH).
Patients entering an outpatient medical office will be provided with a cloth (or OSHA approved yellow) face mask at check-in.
Per CDC guidelines, face masks should not be placed on young children under age 2, anyone who has trouble breathing, or anyone who is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance.
If you have additional questions about wearing a face mask to your appointment, please call the appropriate facility prior to your arrival.