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BAKERSVILLE – Mitchell County’s leaders have been exploring moving health districts, but a vote by AppHealthCare on whether to accept a fourth county into its coverage area has been postponed indefinitely.

Kathy Young, Mitchell county manager, confirmed that the Mitchell County Commissioners have been discussing a switch from Toe River Health District – which covers Avery, Mitchell and Yancey counties – to AppHealthCare, formerly Appalachian Regional Health District, which covers Alleghany, Ashe and Watauga counties.

“(AppHealthCare) has not reached a decision and we definitely have not,” Young said.

A move would put Mitchell County in a health district it does not border and leave Avery and Yancey counties together in a district, despite not having any borders themselves and Mitchell between them.

In North Carolina, all 100 counties have a public health department. Most operate independently, but in a few cases such as Toe River and AppHealthCare, counties have joined together to form a health district in order to share resources between health departments.

Young said that Mitchell County first started discussions about a potential switch during budget meetings in the first half of 2019, when she was asked to look at different options.

“It’s not saying that we’re going to move,” Young said.

According to meeting minutes posted on Mitchell County’s website, the county’s commissioners have expressed interest in moving on from Toe River if they feel like it’s the best move for the taxpayers.

Diane Creek, director of Toe River Health District, said the change would not affect the services offered by the Avery and Yancey County health departments, but it may affect the cost of the district’s small administrative staff to both counties.

“The Mitchell County Health Department has been part of a three-county district with Avery and Yancey counties since 1980,” Creek wrote in a June 5 letter to the editor in the Mitchell News-Journal. “The health department has 14 employees who are dedicated to providing excellent health care, health education, family support services and environmental health services.”

In the same letter, Creek said if Mitchell County is absorbed by another health district that doesn’t share county borders, services to its citizens would decrease.

Both AppHealthCare and Mitchell County confirmed that the two sides have met on the potential addition.

“They were very professional,” Young said of AppHealth Care. “(AppHealthCare Director Jennifer) Greene provided us with a PowerPoint on the overall process and the services they provide and how she communicates with her board.”

When asked on Nov. 5 if Mitchell County plans to meet with Creek and Toe River, Young said that a meeting has not been set up.

In the Oct. 30 edition of the Watauga Democrat, a notice was printed by AppHealthCare of a special meeting of the district’s Board of Health on Nov. 5 to discuss the request by Mitchell County to join. On Nov. 2, the meeting was canceled.

“We had originally planned to hold a joint meeting (on Nov. 2), but mutually decided that we are not ready for this special called meeting and therefore canceled it,” Greene stated on Nov. 2. “If we determine to hold a future special public meeting, we will be sure it is posted accordingly.”

The public discussion has yet to be rescheduled by AppHealthCare.

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