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ARHS names Schaefer Family Patient Care Tower in honor of $3M lead gift

BOONE — Members of the Appalachian Regional Healthcare System and others recognized the Schaefer family on June 10 for the family’s $3 million donation for the future Schaefer Family Patient Care Tower at Watauga Medical Center.

Bonnie and Jamie Schaefer had joined together with their family, Marla Schaefer and Steve Weishoff, to make the donation to the hospital.

According to ARHS, the Schaefers have been great friends to to the hospital system throughout the years. Bonnie and Jamie Schaefer both recently experienced significant health challenges and turned to ARHS to walk with them through their journey of healing.

For a total of 70 days and nights over the last two years, Bonnie and Jamie Schaefer considered the hospitalists, doctors and nurses at Watauga Medical Center to be their extended family, describing them as “our angels with invisible wings who provided comfort and care on a daily basis.” The two referred to the hospital as their “home away from home.”

During the June 10 event, Bonnie Schaefer said she spent all of that time in the hospital due to an autoimmune disease. Jamie Schaefer followed up by saying she battled breast cancer and melanoma. The two named off each doctor, nurse, dietary staff, lab technician, cleaning staff and chaplain who had a hand in their care and recovery, and asked each of them to stand in front of those gathered at the event to be recognized.

“They saved my life,” Bonnie Schaefer said. “For that I am so grateful. As a result, we decided to make the hospital better.”

Chuck Mantooth, president and CEO of ARHS, said to the crowd that patients expect good clinical judgment at the hospital, but what makes the difference is the compassionate care that is provided — which is what he said the Schaefer’s found at ARHS.

“While the Schaefers have the means and opportunity to seek health care from anywhere in the world, they trusted Appalachian Regional Healthcare System with life-saving medical care, chronic disease management, surgical services, emergency care, intensive care — as well as several other service lines and specialists,” ARHS stated. “Fortunately, they are both on the road to good health and they only return to the hospital for routine care these days.”

But while they were in the hospital, the Schaefers realized that the world-class health care they received from the people of Watauga Medical Center didn’t necessarily match the aging physical building.

“They say people make a place and it’s a good thing, because the core hospital, built in 1967, is dated, in disrepair and in need of improvement,” said Bonnie Schaefer.

“Watauga Medical Center offers life-saving medical care to those living in the High Country,” Jamie Schaefer said. “The patients and health care professionals need and deserve a new, state-of-the-art hospital.”

In a tradition as long-standing as the Schaefer family itself, they are taking steps to ensure that everyone continues to receive the same high standard of care they did — for generations to come — in a brand new, modern patient care tower.

Rob Hudspeth, president of the Appalachian Regional Healthcare Foundation and senior vice president for system advancement for ARHS, said the health care system is on the cusp of investing $110 million in a “transformational change” system-wide for ARHS. The bed tower itself will offer larger patient rooms, modern surgery suites, a new women’s health center and an intensive care unit, he said.

“I would like to thank Bonnie and Jamie Schaefer, Marla Schaefer and Steve Weishoff for their generosity in providing the lead gift for a new 48-bed hospital tower,” Hudspeth said “This historic investment will fuel the future of health care in the High Country, ensure access to continued technological improvements and allow us to reimagine our community hospital to address the ever-changing world of health care.”

Hudspeth said that the new 48-bed hospital tower will mean new opportunities for nurses, doctors and clinicians.

To learn more about the hospital expansion project, visit apprhs.org/wmc-expansion/.

14-year-old wins Big Kahuna, campaign raises more than $50,000

BOONE — More than $50,000 was raised as part of the 2021 Big Kahuna Campaign, a yearly fundraising effort from the Watauga County Habitat for Humanity — in which a 14-year-old girl was declared “The Big Kahuna.”

Over the six years preceding the 2021 edition, the campaign raised more than $230,000 and this year’s goal was $45,000, according to Habitat Director of Development Allison Jennings.

Jennings said the campaign uses a team format, with groups trying to out-raise each other, and the individual person who raises the most gets the crown.

This year, the teams competing were Wonder Women

(Ella Jennings, Traci Royster, Nikki Crees and Allyson Medlin), Boone Sunrise Rotary (Lane Robinson, Caroline Poteat, Gary Moss and Lynne Mason), Boone Business Exchange (Lori Holton, Kelley Harrison, Karl Mohr and Stacey Gibson) and Lambda Chi Alpha (Caden Bondurant, Try Knox, Nicholas Lopina, Mason Zlotnik and Liam McHale). Those donating could just give to the team, or give to them through the individual.

While many had entered, a notable competitor was Ella Jennings, Allison Jennings’ 14-year-old daughter. She had done well the previous year, but wanted to blow the competition out of the water in 2021.

“She decided to write to the former Kahunas and ask for their support,” Allison Jennings said. “Then, she just got to work. She talked to anyone who’d listen and was determined to win. I told her, ‘You know, some of these people could write a big check at the end and steal the win.’ She was like, ‘Yeah, but it’ll be because I made them write it.’”

She said that while the funds raised through The Big Kahuna campaign would not be enough to build a house on its own, the fundraiser goes a long way in continuing Habitat’s work and makes it easier to build affordable housing for those who need it.

The whole campaign culminated in an event at Booneshine Brewing on Thursday, June 10, where teams and supporters celebrated the campaign’s success while trying to get the last bit of donations they could at the last minute.

In the end, Ella Jennings and her team took the title with Jennings raising $20,683, more than any other individual or team. The Wonder Women raised $26,596 for the team win as all teams combined raised $54,592.

“Thank you all for supporting Habitat for Humanity,” Ella Jennings said after winning the Big Kahuna title, specifically thanking her teammates.

Also at the event was Kim Paterno, slated to be the next person receiving a home from Habitat. Paterno said the support Habitat receives is “incredible,” and was thankful as she was surrounded by people donating money to help her receive a home.

More information about Watauga Habitat for Humanity can be found at www.wataugahabitat.org/home.

Watauga County hits 50 percent of population partially vaccinated against COVID-19
  • Updated

WATAUGA — After nearly seven months of administering COVID-19 vaccines, Watauga County has hit 50 percent of the population being vaccinated with at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

In Watauga County, 27,816 people — or 50 percent — have been partially vaccinated against COVID-19 while 25,283 people — or 45 percent — have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as of June 15, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

AppHealthCare Health Director Jennifer Greene said she is incredibly grateful as the county hit the 50 percent mark.

“I am grateful for every person who has taken steps to be vaccinated and for all of our community providers who have been helping make vaccines accessible to the community,” Greene said. “I also believe we have more work ahead. We know that without a higher rate of vaccination, we risk having more interference with our lives from COVID-19.”

For those who have been vaccinated already, Greene has a simple message: thank you.

“You are part of the solution to bring back more normalcy to all of our lives,” Greene said. “If you are someone who has been waiting, I hope you will carefully consider what questions you still have about being vaccinated and call us or your health care provider to get credible information to inform your decision. The sooner we have more people vaccinated, the better opportunity we have to maintain or bring back more of our normal routine.”

While infection rates are falling in the county — only 10 active cases as of June 15 according to AppHealthCare — Greene said that until there’s an even higher percentage of the population vaccinated, there will still be people at risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19.

Greene said the health department is still seeing people become hospitalized who have not been vaccinated and contract COVID-19. People are also contracting COVID-19 in clusters, Greene said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccines that could hinder people from taking the vaccine.

One piece of misinformation making its way across social media is that getting a COVID-19 vaccine will make a person magnetic, which is not true. The CDC states that receiving a COVID-19 vaccine will not make you magnetic, including at the site of vaccination which is usually the arm. COVID-19 vaccines do not contain ingredients that can produce an electromagnetic field at the site of your injection, according to the CDC.

Another piece of misinformation is about if the vaccines shed or release any of their components, which the CDC states is not true. According to the CDC, vaccine shedding can only occur when a vaccine contains a weakened version of the virus and none of the vaccines authorized for use in the United States contain a live virus.

The COVID-19 vaccines also do not change or interact with DNA in any way.

In Watauga County, Greene said the health department is continuing to provide vaccines through appointments at health department sites. Beginning June 21, AppHealthCare will offer same day vaccine appointments without advanced appointments.

AppHealthCare has also hired a team of vaccinators that are able to go into the community and offer pop-up COVID-19 vaccine clinics.

Two of those vaccine clinics will occur at the Meat Camp Fire Department at 4797 NC-194 on June 17 from 2:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. and at the Tuesday Watauga Farmer’s Market located in front of the health department building on the lawn located at 126 Poplar Grove Connector from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. on June 22.

“Our hope for the COVID-19 vaccine pop-up clinics is that they provide more access and opportunity for individuals to be vaccinated,” Greene said “We are working collaboratively through local partnerships with businesses and community locations to provide another option for people to be vaccinated to reduce transportation, technology and geographic barriers.”

If a business or organization would like to have a pop-up clinic at their location, they can fill out the pop-up vaccine clinic interest form at www.apphealthcare.com/covid-19-vaccinations/. The form is available in English and Spanish and a business can also call the COVID-19 call center at (828) 795-1970 to learn more or to request a pop up clinic.

Greene said the health department is also still providing vaccines to individuals who are homebound and request a vaccine.

The vaccination effort has not been solely due to health care workers as Greene said she thinks a debt of gratitude is owed to the volunteers who have helped get more people vaccinated.

“So many volunteers have truly helped us make vaccines more available in our community,” Greene said. “Additionally, we are so thankful to all the local businesses who have been willing to host us to vaccinate their staff or customers. Our community coming together has made all the difference. Let’s pause to celebrate and know we have to keep going.”

Across the state and compared to the full population, 44 percent of North Carolina residents have been partially vaccinated against COVID-19 while 41 percent have been fully vaccinated as of June 15.

By age, 52 percent of those who are 12 and older are partially vaccinated against COVID-19 while 48 percent are fully vaccinated across the state.

“Let’s celebrate this incredible achievement together, and keep going,” Greene said. “We have a terrific group of healthcare providers in our community that have collectively been supporting more people getting easier access to COVID vaccine. I hope everyone will encourage their loved ones to get vaccinated, and not delay if you are age eligible to be vaccinated.”

Cooper announces NC vaccine lottery, opportunities to win up to $1 million

RALEIGH — During a Thursday, June 10, media briefing of the Coronavirus Task Force and NC Office of Resiliency and Recovery, Gov. Roy Cooper announced that North Carolina is beginning a summer vaccine lottery to incentivize North Carolina residents to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

The cash drawing is open to all residents of North Carolina both 18 and older, as well as individuals 12 to 17 years old. For the 18-and-older group, vaccination recipients who receive the COVID-19 vaccine will be entered into a drawing to win $1 million. For minors age 12 to 17, the lottery will be for $125,000 of funding for post-secondary education. The funds for the lottery are being drawn from federal COVID-19 relief funds.

Cooper said that the effectiveness of the lottery system to increase vaccination rates comes from the results of cash card programs in four North Carolina counties. According to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, Mecklenburg, Guilford, Rowan and Rockingham counties each gave $25 cash cards to each individual who received the vaccine or drove another person to a vaccine clinic from May 26 through June 8.

The summer lottery will occur every other week on Wednesdays over the course of three months. The first drawing will be June 23 and the final drawing will be Aug. 4. Cooper announced that there will be four total adult winners, the winners’ names will be made public and the winnings will be taxed. There will be four winners for the 12- to 17-years old age group as well.

There is an extra incentive for residents who have yet to get their vaccine, however. Beginning from the June 10 announcement, individuals receiving their first dose will be entered into the cash drawing twice. Cooper said that continuing to vaccinate is important, especially now that “most people aren’t wearing masks in most places, (and) unvaccinated people can be a real danger to each other.”

Cooper responded to reporters’ inquiries about the future of North Carolina’s state of emergency and COVID-19 restrictions. Executive Order 215, which outlines the state of emergency and remaining mask restrictions in select locations like schools and hospitals, will expire June 11. Cooper stated that he intends to reissue the COVID-19 state of emergency and not allow it to expire, explaining that the state still needs to draw from federal funds that are released during the state of emergency.

The governor, along with Department of Health and Human Services Director Dr. Mandy Cohen, provided an update on COVID-19 in North Carolina, stating that according to the NCDHHS, there are currently a total of 1,007,273 positive cases and 548 hospitalized COVID-19 patients in the state.

Ultimately, Cohen emphasized the safety and effectiveness of vaccines, and Cooper urged residents to “make sure you have your shot in a million.”