Mental Health crisis real in Franklin

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Clint Kendall – Angel Medical Center CEO 

It’s summer! It’s hard not to love this season of flowers growing, warm days, afternoon showers, and beautiful, cooler nights that only those of us lucky enough to live in the mountains get to enjoy.

Summer also finds me restless for the weekend anticipating fun activities — and I know I’m not alone. We’re programmed to look at the next step, and often evaluate it quickly, labeling it as a positive or a negative. I’ve tried to build a hopeful outlook and tend to lean toward being positive, but it’s also common to dwell on the negative. Unfortunately, many people don’t see hope on the path ahead, especially when significant life stresses or an issue like depression is present.  

Unfortunately, the mental health crisis is real, and a major issue across the U.S. and right here in Franklin. Some cope by using drugs, and they are all around us. Even though we may not hear their collective cry for help, it’s there. We must realize that the addiction crisis and the mental health crisis are also intertwined. 

Rather than judging those who struggle with addiction, it’s important to understand that there’s almost no one who hasn’t been affected somehow by the drug crisis. According to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS), more than 28,000 North Carolinians died from drug overdoses between 2000 and 2020. Each of these represents a tragedy for families and loved ones. Sadly, the COVID-19 pandemic led to increased drug misuse and abuse as more people felt hopeless and lost sight of their value. 

The Centers of Disease Control (CDC) states that overdose deaths have risen by a staggering 30% in just 2020, and an additional 15% in the following year, 2021. Across the country, 107,622 overdose deaths were reported for that period.

Though the solutions to this overwhelming problem are complex, we have to turn the tide, through better treatment, destigmatizing addiction and seeking mental health services, and meeting those struggling where they are, with compassion and hope. 

International Overdose Awareness Day is Aug. 31, and when I consider the types of dangerous drugs we’re dealing with now, it makes my growing up in Western North Carolina seem tame in comparison. The only illicit substances we were aware of then were tobacco, alcohol and maybe a certain tree seed pod, which were said to give those who chewed them a “high” feeling. Like how trees can grow almost anywhere, there’s no household that’s immune to the risk of addiction. 

I hear many people express relief that our community isn’t affected, but this couldn’t be further from the truth, sadly. The NCDHHS reported overdose deaths rising by a startling 37% in 2020 across the state. In 2021, Macon County experienced a rate of 44.5 deaths per 100,000 people, significantly higher than the state average of 33.5 . 

This data weighs heavily on my heart. Angel Medical Center (AMC), along with our community partners, see and feel this reality every day. It also pains me to hear people declaring that, with regard to these drug casualties, “they are not that person,” that they’d never get caught up in the spiral of addiction, or worse still, that if someone loses their life through an overdose, they somehow deserve it. 

CDC data reflects that a full 83% of deaths by overdose were not intentional. In 2021 alone, N.C. lost 1,600 to heroin, 800 to cocaine, and 1,800 to commonly prescribed household medications. Failing to secure prescription medications or using medications for any purpose other than what they were prescribed for is a leading cause of overdose deaths. 

I want to encourage our community to embrace those with mental illness and addiction challenges, lock up your medications and discard any unused ones, and to do all you can to support those struggling. It might mean volunteering for a local community organization, or supporting a friend as they discuss a problem. On Oct.29, AMC will hold its Crush the Crisis drug take back day. More information to come on that event.

Now for some positive news: AMC nominates four people annually who have shown outstanding pride and work for the hospital and this community. In the Excellence in Nursing Category, we chose two outstanding Emergency Room nurses, Patricia “Janie” Key and Duane McHan.  Both provide excellent care and demonstrate the compassion that make Angel such a special place. 

In the Frist Humanitarian Award category, we chose Gay Todson, a long-time volunteer with a heart for the staff and people that come to seek care at Angel. She has accumulated more than 12,000 volunteer hours, and is such a help and blessing to our team. 

Rick VanGilder has been nominated for the Innovators Award for his special talent of finding ways throughout the pandemic to bring a smile to the faces of staff and patients. 

Congratulations to these four outstanding employees. It’s hard to nominate just a few when there are so many passionate people serving the healthcare needs of our community with such dedication. 

Finally, a new facility update! We are still slated to open on Sept.18, at 6 a.m. We will have a time for the community to come out and see the facility and get the exciting behind-the-scenes tour. This is a great step and enhances our ability to provide excellent care, close to home, to this special community.   

Clint Kendall, FACHE, MBA, MSN, BSN, RN, is Chief Executive Officer/Chief Nursing Officer of Angel Medical Center.

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