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Avery Board of Commissioners Learn Teenage Foster Care Needed; Receive News About County’s New Innovative Hospital Facilities

By Tim Gardner

Updates about foster care in the county and Charles H. Cannon, Jr. Memorial Hospital and recognition of the Avery Morrison Library Board of Trustees members headlined a light workload during the Avery Commissioners meeting on August 5.

Commissioners Martha Hicks (Chairperson); Wood Hall (Woodie) Young, Jr.; Tim Phillips; and Dennis Aldridge were present. Commissioner Blake Vance (Vice-Chairman) was absent. Other top county officials attending included: County Manager Phillip Barrier, Jr.; Finance Officer Tim Greene; Assistant County Manager and Clerk to the Board Cindy Turbyfill; and County Attorney Michaelle Poore.

The Library Trustees were introduced and they and the library staff praised for providing the county what Avery Commission Chairperson Hicks called “the highest professional library service available.” The Library Trustees include Steve Bender, Clayton Harpold, Josh Smith, Kathee Massee, Susie Potter, and Aneda Johnson.

Avery Social Services Director Barbara Jones spoke to the Board of Commissioners about the county’s Foster Care program. Jones said as of July 29, 2019, Avery County has 21 children in foster care. Of those, seven are five years old or younger and four are teenagers. Jones noted that Avery DSS has four teenagers who have signed up for the 18-21 year- old program that aged out of Avery County foster care. Jones noted that DSS does not retain custody, but does pay a monthly stipend to the placement provider or the young adult to help with living expenses while a social worker works with them to learn independent living skills. The program requires the young adult to be enrolled in school or employed at least 20 hours a month.

Jones said Avery County DSS currently has 12 licensed foster homes, but only three are not at full capacity. She said the county currently does not have any licensed homes that would be able to accommodate a sibling group of two or more. She added that Avery currently has five sibling groups in custody, with two of those groups being in a kinship placement with grandparents, one group at Crossnore School Inc. and the other two in licensed foster homes in the county. Jones said Avery DSS is recruiting foster parents for the upcoming Model Approach to Partnerships in Parenting (MAPP) training, which it has partnered with Watauga County DSS to begin in September.

Jones declared that there is always a need in Avery County for foster parents. She commented: “We never seem to have enough when needed. We also have foster parents who only want babies or small children and are not willing to take school-age children or teenagers. We often run into the dilemma of placing teenagers due to many foster parents not wanting teenagers in their homes. This is very unfortunate because we have some great teenagers who are in custody that just need someone to take the time to show them that they care.”

Jones gave further remarks about the local difficulty to find foster care for teenagers. “They (teenagers) are hard to adopt and very rarely do we find a family that is willing to adopt a teenager,” she said. “The 18-21-year-old program is great for these teenagers who do not have the family support when they turn 18 because the children that do age out of foster care the majority of the time have no support. Three of our four teenagers have been in custody for more than a year now. Many teenagers have only known their social worker as the only constant in their lives and have grown to trust them. It would be wonderful to have families or individuals who could mentor these teenagers and show them that someone is willing to open up their home or life to them and teach them the skills that they need to know to be a successful adult.

“Many teenagers who age out of custody do not have the family to return home to during the holidays or just to call when they have a bad day to talk to someone. Being in a small county where everyone knows everybody, you would think we would have more of these resources and connections for teenagers, but we don’t.”

Jones and other Avery DSS officials encourage those interested in becoming Foster or Adoptive parents to call Raquel Jennings at the local DSS office (828) 733-8230.

Carmen Lacey, Administrator of Charles H. Cannon, Jr. Memorial Hospital in Linville, addressed the Board of Commissioners about the hospital’s general operations and new facilities. Lacey said Cannon is a non-profit Hospital-member of the Appalachian Regional Healthcare System, based in Boone and is designated by the federal government as a 25 bed Critical Access Hospital.

She added that Cannon’s General Medical Inpatient average daily census is 6 to 7 patients, leaving the majority of the current inpatient medical beds unused and that the hospital houses a 10-bed Adult Behavioral Health Unit. Lacey also noted that Cannon receives about 5,000 referrals for admission annually, but due to current limitations, it can admit about ten percent of those (approximately 500).

Cannon has broken ground for new facility additions to its inpatient behavioral health unit. The project will expand the facility’s ability to meet behavioral health needs.

It will include two new facilities in which 27 behavioral health beds will be added to the existing 10 beds at the Critical Access Hospital. The expansion will also add eight new medical beds and convert old medical beds to be used in behavioral health units. It will include a limited number of substance abuse beds.

The construction of the eight-bed inpatient facility has an anticipated completion in February 2020.

Lacey also told of the state-of-the-art Dorothea Dix Behavioral Health Expansion and Acute Care Bed Project that is scheduled to be completed in 2021, will include the addition of 27 behavioral health beds to meet local, regional and state needs. It will have the capacity to house up to a total of 37 beds.

Lacey added that the facility will be the only behavioral health unit in a 40-mile radius and its the expansion will allow serving 1,500 patients, a 300-percent increase past the 500 it usually admits annually at the current facility.

She noted that the need for behavioral beds runs in contrast to the hospital’s declining medical beds use. She said Cannon only averages about six new patients admitted each day. But she said the existing behavioral health care beds almost always remain full.

Lacey also declared that the expansion should create around 58 jobs, ranging from lower-level technicians, nurses, dietary and social workers, doctors to other hospital-related jobs.

The Appalachian Regional Healthcare System, of which Charles H. Cannon, Jr. Memorial Hospital operates under, received $6.5 million ($6,503,478.00 total) in grant funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for the new facilities to be constructed.

It also got $2.4 million from the Morrison Charitable Trust and $2.1 million from The Blair Foundation.

“I’m proud that Cannon Hospital and Avery County will be the leader in the area for behavioral hospital care with these new facilities as well as continuing to offer medical beds for admissions, surgeries, diagnostics, and rehabilitation as well as a 24-hour; seven days a week emergency department,” Lacey remarked.

Avery County Cooperative Extension Director Jerry Moody told the Commissioners about an $18,000.00 grant the county has received. Awarded and administered by the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Agricultural Foundation, the grant provides resources to fund innovative initiatives that benefit Cooperative Extension Service Programs for Avery County.

Additionally, the County Commissioners adopted a resolution Declaring Certain Real Property Surplus and Authorizing Its Sale by Sealed Bid and were informed that tax collections for the month of July were $57,438.68.

All voting by the Board of Commissioners was unanimous (4-0).

The Board of Commissioners will hold their next regular monthly meeting on Tuesday, September 3, at 3:30 p.m. in the County Administration Building, located at 175 Linville Street in Newland. That meeting was moved to Tuesday from the traditional meeting day of the first Monday of a month because September’s first Monday is always a Federal Holiday (Labor Day).