UNC’s Asheville outpost trains doctors for rural North Carolina
A new building for UNC Health Sciences at the Mountain Area Health Education Center’s Biltmore Campus will house the Asheville division of UNC’s medical school, along with other groups. Rendering provided by LS3P
By Spencer Campbell
While offering bounties of mountains, waterfalls and beer, western North Carolina is sorely lacking in doctors. Each of the state’s 16 westernmost counties has been designated a Health Professional Shortage Area by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. All told, the region is about 140 primary-care physicians and at least 20 surgeons short of acceptable levels.
To help cure the problem, state lawmakers appropriated $11 million in funds in this year’s budget for UNC Health Sciences at the Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC). The figure includes $8 million in new funding plus $3 million in recurring funds. The center’s hub is an Asheville division of the UNC School of Medicine, which aims to train and retain physicians for underserved rural areas. “That is one of our chief missions,” says Robyn Latessa, director of UNC’s program in Asheville. Students interested in practicing in rural areas attend classes in Chapel Hill for 18 months before moving to Asheville for clinical work.
Started in 2009, the UNC School of Medicine Asheville has grown from four to 26 students who do rotations at MAHEC clinics or with physicians in the community and at Mission Hospital. The new funds will expand the number to 40. Typically, about half of the school’s graduates stay in rural western North Carolina to practice, so the program’s growth could put a dent in the physician shortage.
Doctors are only part of the provider system, so much of the money is directed to new programs for other health care professionals. A partnership between UNC Asheville and the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health will churn out master’s recipients ready to identify community health issues.
Officials at the Asheville campus also will work with Western Carolina University in Cullowhee to increase the number of teaching sites where students can train as nurses, physical therapists, dietary aides and other health care occupations. Because of the funding, the health center’s research team has expanded from three to 11, and a new program places recently graduated doctors in local communities where they learn soft skills required to work effectively in rural areas.
ASHEVILLE — UNC Asheville Chancellor Mary Grant will resign at the end of the semester to become president of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the U.S. Senate in Boston. Grant has led the liberal-arts university that enrolls about 3,800 students since August 2014.
SPINDALE — Manual Woodworkers & Weavers will add 35 jobs and invest $366,000 in a renovation of its local thread plant. The Hendersonville-based company makes custom printed fabrics for apparel and home décor and employs more than 200 people in the state.
VALDESE — Martinsville, Va.-based Hooker Furniture plans to acquire Shenandoah Furniture for $40 million in a cash and stock deal. Started in Virginia in 1981, Shenandoah makes upholstered sofas, chairs and other furniture at plants here and in Mount Airy and Martinsville. Publicly traded Hooker had revenue of $577 million for the fiscal year that ended in January.
MURPHY — Aegis Power Systems will invest $2 million and add six jobs in an expansion. Started in 1995, the company provides power supplies and converters for the defense, industrial, aerospace and other industries. Aegis employs 16 people at the Cherokee County plant.