Brittney Lofthouse – Staff Writer

In North Carolina, there are 83 painkiller prescriptions per 100 residents, according to the Centers for Disease Control. In 2016, there were 6,75,315, 375 opioid pill dispensed in North Carolina. In the 23 far western counties of the state, which includes Macon County, 94,881,114 opioid pills were dispensed in 2016.

Macon County Commissioner Ronnie Beale, along with Shelly Foreman from Vaya Health spoke to county commissioners last month about the devastating impact the opioid epidemic is having in Western North Carolina and how Vaya Health is working to help Macon County residents and other residents of their 23 county service area.

With a focus on Medicaid reform and funding cuts, Foreman and Beale spoke to how mental health in the far western counties may soon change. Advancing NC Whole Health is a new partnership to leverage strengths and expertise in response to Medicaid reform. The coalition will unite the efforts of three high-performing Managed Care Organizations or MCOs—Vaya Health, Trillium Health Resources and Alliance Behavioral Healthcare—to address significant, statewide health policy issues that impact North Carolinians across the state. Advancing NC Whole Health is in alignment with the Medicaid Reform plan proposed by the NC Department of Health and Human Services.

Foreman explained that through the formation of the coalition, Vaya Health seeks to have a stronger voice in advancing the role of the public behavioral healthcare system in Medicaid Transformation, helping ensure continued stability and continuity of care for the people they serve. The combined provider network of the MCOs will enhance access to a diverse range of services and supports to people in both urban and rural areas of the state. It also has the potential to provide more seamless access to services to all of the entities that ultimately are part of North Carolina’s evolved Medicaid landscape.

The joint effort is not a merger or mandated consolidation. Each of the MCOs will continue to operate in their respective counties, keeping their names, board structure and staffing, in addition to working together as part of the coalition to leverage resources, experience and expertise on a statewide level. MCO leaders identify the collaboration as the most effective way to demonstrate to NC DHHS, the General Assembly and potential commercial healthcare partners that MCOs can successfully implement Medicaid Transformation in a way that advances high-quality care, improves population health, engages and supports providers and establishes a sustainable program with predictable costs (a four-prong approach known as the Quadruple Aim).

About Vaya Health

Based in Asheville, N.C., Vaya Health manages public funds for mental health, substance use disorder and intellectual or developmental disability services in 23 western North Carolina counties: Alexander, Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Buncombe, Caldwell, Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Henderson, Jackson, Macon, Madison, McDowell, Mitchell, Polk, Rutherford, Swain, Transylvania, Watauga, Wilkes and Yancey. Access to care and crisis assistance are available 24/7 at 1-800-849-6127. Learn more at