NEWLAND — The Avery County Board of Commissioners held a rare Tuesday evening meeting in light of the Labor Day holiday on Sept. 8, in which Vaya Health Community Relations Regional Director Jessie Smathers gave a presentation on the mental health organization’s local efforts during the pandemic.

Smathers, who covers six counties including Avery, works as a county liaison for the organization, which manages Medicaid, state-funded mental health, disability and substance abuse services. Vaya Health works in partnership with Daymark Recovery Services to serve Avery County.

Over the last several months, Vaya Health purchased 500 cell phones to provide telehealth services to patients who do not have internet and provided additional assistance to therapeutic foster care homes, intellectual developmental disability group homes and alternative family living settings that were struggling financially due to the need for personal protective equipment.

“We’ve also worked with the department in NC Medicaid to create additional flexibility so that folks could receive services that historically couldn’t be provided through telephone or video in that manner,” Smathers said.

For the month of July, Vaya Health-funded providers in Avery County served 357 members, 38 members received complex care management and 91 complex care management contacts were made.

For Suicide Awareness Month from Sept. 9 to Oct. 15, Vaya Health will be offering crisis intervention training on the second Tuesday of every month from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. and on the fourth Tuesday from 9 to 11 a.m. Smathers said that suicide is the second-leading cause of death for individuals age 10 to 34.

Moreover, Vaya Health has partnered with the Avery County Sheriff’s Office to provide additional resources for deputies to better handle mental health crises.

“(One thing) that we’re pretty excited about is working with Sheriff Frye. We may have this up and running by October 1. (We’ve) equipped all of the sheriff’s deputies’ cars with an iPad so that they can access telehealth for mental health crises,” Smathers said.

Avery County is the only county in which all of its deputies have completed crisis intervention training, and its partnership with Vaya Health is the first of its kind in the state, according to Smathers.

After receiving a neighborhood revitalization program grant, Avery County has reached an agreement with W.A.M.Y. Community Action for the nonprofit to administer $49,500 in funds as part of the program.

WAMY will oversee activities associated with the Emergency Home Repairs project, which will identify eligible homes for repair services, verify homeowner’s eligibility, prepare bid notices, maintain files and documentations and submit invoices to Avery County for reimbursement.

The commissioners approved the agreement unanimously, as well as the tax collections total for August at $3,810,608. The county reported 144 total qualified sales for the month, an amount which impressed Tax Administrator Bruce Daniels, who said he has not seen this strong of a real estate market since the mid part of the 2000s.

“In my professional opinion, if you have property that you want to get rid of, put it on the market. Someone will buy it,” Daniels said.

In his monthly report, County Manager Phillip Barrier reassured the commissioners that a recent surge in COVID-19 cases are within a congregate living setting. Due to Gov. Roy Cooper easing restrictions as part of Phase 2.5, the county has reopened its playground and the Rock Gym. The county is asking for residents to make reservations for visiting the Rock Gym beforehand, and will allow 12 people at a time for basketball and pickleball and eight at a time for the workout room. With the pool closing, the recreation department will move cleaning efforts to the gym.

Agricultural Extension Director Jerry Moody and the Avery County Health Department are working with the Christmas Tree Association to prepare for the upcoming Christmas tree season. County officials are looking at implementing safety measures as people from out of town come in for choose-and-cut and other activities as part of the season.

The county will prioritize the following areas as it uses its COVID-19-related funding: personal protective equipment, emergency management storage space, virtual workplace/distance learning, public health measures at tax office and inspections, field response trailer for emergency services, field response trailer for public health, Emergency Medical Services COVID-19 training area, a message board, internet connectivity at fire departments without internet access and a refrigerator/generator for vaccines.

“We’re going to work with our fire departments to start some internet connectivity where there’s some hotspots for parents to go to where they don’t have service, and they can be within a five-mile radius,” Barrier said.

The commissioners approved a project ordinance to distribute the $976,403 in COVID-19 relief funding it had received through various sources. The funds will be dispersed as follows: medical expenses ($100,000), public health supplies ($200,000), payroll expenses ($150,000), facilities expenses ($307,302), Town of Banner Elk ($63,194), Town of Beech Mountain ($24,386), Town of Crossnore ($7,209), Town of Elk Park ($10,118), Town of Newland ($20,501), Town of Seven Devils ($14,003) and Village of Sugar Mountain ($79,690).

The board of commissioners will hold its next meeting at 3:30 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 21.

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