News, public health

In one of NC’s many food deserts, a co-op grocery store closes

When Greensboro’s Renaissance Community Co-Op opened in 2016, it was the area’s first since grocery store since 1998.

Last week the store, in largely Black and low-income East Greensboro, announced it is closing at the end of the month. Despite demonstrable need in the under-served, low income area the store simply didn’t maintain the sales strength to keep its doors open.

The store on Phillips Avenue is at the center of what the U.S. Department of Agriculture calls a food deserts – a low income area where at least 33 percent of the people are more than a mile away from a real grocery store or supermarket.

There are 24 food deserts in Guilford County – 17 in Greensboro and seven in High Point.

More than 35,000 people in Guilford County have poor access to healthful food, according to USDA statistics. More than 18,000 of those are low-income.

Guilford’s food deserts are mostly in well-known low-income areas: south of Kivett Drive in High Point, most of east Greensboro and a large rural area near the outskirts of McLeansville.

Concerned Citizens for Northeast Greensboro worked with the Greensboro-based Fund for Democratic Communities partnered and Durham community development lender Self-Help to get the store off the ground. Citizens raised more than $1.2 million and the project received grants of $250,000 from the city of Greensboro and $25,000 from Guilford County. The c0-op’s membership grew to more than 1,300. But in the end, sales weren’t enough to sustain it.

Roodline Volcy, president of the co-op’s board of directors, told the News & Record that over 16 years without a grocery store, people seemed to  have developed other habits in terms of how they got their food.

“I’m just heartbroken over the whole thing,” said Greensboro City Councilwoman Goldie Wells, who represents the area.

News, public health

Healthcare round-up: From Florence recovery to Medicaid expansion to combating NC’s opioid crisis (podcast)

Is 2019 the year for Medicaid expansion in the Tar Heel state? Will Medicaid reform save North Carolina money and deliver better service for millions of North Carolinians? And what do you need to know about open enrollment under the Affordable Care Act before December 15th?

We asked those questions and more to North Carolina’s Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen last week when she joined NC Policy Watch director Rob Schofield on News and Views.

Click below to hear our full interview where Sec. Cohen and Schofield also discuss Hurricane Florence recovery and the latest efforts to curb the state’s opioid crisis:

Environment, public health

Higher rates of birth defects found in four southeastern counties; link to PFAS uncertain

Illustration of human brain

Several factors can cause brain-related birth defects, including genetics and environmental exposures.

Rates of birth defects affecting the brain, heart and central nervous system were higher than the state average in areas of southeastern North Carolina from 2003 to 2014, the state Department of Health and Human Services announced today. The affected counties are Bladen, Brunswick, Cumberland and New Hanover, where GenX and other per- and poly- fluorinated compounds (PFAS) have been detected in drinking water.

However, DHHS said the study results can’t establish a link between the anomalies and PFAS. The number of cases was small and varied from year to year.

According to a DHHS report, the prevalence of brain reduction defects was higher in Bladen, Brunswick and Cumberland counties. While microcephaly —  an abnormally small brain — and hydrocephaly — an accumulation of spinal fluid around the brain — were more prevalent in New Hanover County. The higher prevalence of these birth defects, which included some related to heart development, was not confined to the lower Cape Fear region, DHHS said.

The prevalence of total brain defects varied substantially across the state, DHHS said. They can be caused by genetic, environmental exposure or even unknown factors.

There were 3,702 reported cases of all types of brain defects in North Carolina between 2003 and 2014. Bladen County reported 20; Pender, 32; Brunswick, 60; New Hanover, 130; and 220 Cumberland. When adjusted for population, these numbers were higher than the state average.

There are no national figures available to compare North Carolina’s rates with the rest of the US. Nor was data available for babies born at federal or military facilities, such as Womack Army Medical Center in Cumberland County. Infants born at military facilities are only included if transferred to a non-military hospital for care.

DHHS chose to analyze birth defects data because some animal studies have reported weak associations between PFAS exposure and birth defects; however, DHHS said these studies have important limitations. Animal studies, particularly using rodents, don’t necessarily reflect outcomes in humans.

News, public health

Six things to have on your radar this week

#1 – Anti-Semitism in the South, and where we go after the Pittsburgh synagogue attack

This evening at the Friday Center, the Carolina Center for Jewish Studies will present an important community lecture on anti-Semitism and the Jewish experience in the South. The program will feature author Jonathan Weisman and Ryan Thornburg, UNC School of Media and Journalism, focusing on Weisman’s book, (((Semitism))). The book is a rumination on the rise of anti-Semitism, racism and hate in this current political climate, and what should be done to confront it.

Tonight’s event is free and open to the public. It runs from 7:00pm-9:00pm at The Friday Center, 100 Friday Center Drive, Chapel Hill.

#2 – A new BTC Report on creating equitable health outcomes

On Tuesday the Budget & Tax Center releases a new report giving a breakdown of how state investments in the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services have changed since 2008.
The report identifies the need to focus on equitable health outcomes to create a culture of health where every North Carolinian can reach their full potential.

We’ll feature more from that report this week on the Progressive Pulse blog.

#3 – Don’t Punish Pain™ Rallies

Don’t Punish Pain™ Rallies are being held in Raleigh and Charlotte on Tuesday.

In 2016, CDC guidelines that were made to address the illicit fentanyl/heroin crisis caused a drastic over-correction in the health care setting. An unintended consequence was that many physicians, hospitals, and even pharmacies stopped treating pain altogether.

This affects people with chronic pain, acute pain as well as post-operative pain.

Tomorrow in Raleigh there will be a rally starting at 11:00am at Halifax Mall. Learn more here: http://dontpunishpainrally.com/wp-content/Flyer-Files/Flyers/49%20NC%20Raleigh.PDF

In the Queen City , a similar event runs from 11:00 am until 1:00 pm at the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, 5701 Executive Center Dr, Charlotte.

#4 – Politics, polling and prognostications ahead of the November mid-terms

Also on Tuesday, NC Policy Watch will hold its latest Crucial Conversation: Trick or treat? A mid-term election preview Featuring Tom Jensen of Public Policy Polling. Tom was good enough to join Rob Schofield over their weekend on News & Views and offer a preview of how the polls are trending:

Join us tomorrow as we learn the details of where things stand and what the political world is likely to look like on November 7th after all the votes are tallied.

Tomorrow’s event begins at noon at the Center for Community Leadership Training Room at the Junior League of Raleigh Building, 711 Hillsborough Street.

Please be sure to register so we have a proper headcount.

#5 –  State Board of Education gets an update on Hurricane Florence recovery and the next charter-school takeover target

On Thursday, this month’s meeting of the State Board of Education will open with an update of Hurricane Florence recovery efforts. The board will also decide whether Carver Heights Elementary School in Wayne Country will be operated under the Innovative School District starting in the 2019/2020 school year.

An agenda for Thursday’s meeting at the Education Building can be found here: https://simbli.eboardsolutions.com/SB_Meetings/SB_MeetingListing.aspx?S=10399

#6 – Want to avoid the lines on Election Day? Early voting ends this Saturday!

Finally, one-stop early voting draws to a close on Saturday. You can look up early voting poll places, dates and times here: https://www.ncsbe.gov/Voting-Options/One-Stop-Early-Voting

News, public health

Medicaid overhaul clears a major hurdle

If this week’s $1.6 billion lottery jackpot had you daydreaming about big numbers, how does $6 billion sound?

That $6 billion figure is the annual amount North Carolina is expected to contract out to various managed-care groups as it overhauls the state’s Medicaid system.

Earlier this week the state crossed a major hurdle in receiving federal approval of its waiver to reform the system that covers more than two million people in our state.

NC Health News has a great summary of what this means:

Approval by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in what’s known as a Section 1115 Demonstration Waiver means the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services is on track with its Medicaid reform plan. The department will begin transitioning three-quarters of the state’s 2.1 million Medicaid patients next November to managed care and away from the current fee-for-service system.

The approval came after the state already collected applications from eight managed-care companies and provider-led groups who want to be involved. A decision on who wins those bids is expected to come in February. The first patients will migrate to the new system next November.

The approval (a copy can be read here) also gave a green light for pilot programs to look at alternative ways to improve health, making North Carolina the first state to receive permission to use Medicaid dollars for enhanced case management tools to target what are referred to as social determinants of health such as homelessness, family violence, toxic stress, transportation issues and food insecurity.

And for those still wondering if Medicaid expansion could be in the cards with this overhaul, reporter Sarah Ovaska-Few explains we may all be waiting a little longer:

Also getting a thumbs down from CMS was a proposed program, Carolina Cares, that would have been an alternate way of expanding the Medicaid program to cover the hundreds of thousands of North Carolina adults who are without health care and earn too little to qualify for a subsidy.

Carolina Cares was conceived as a backdoor of sorts to Medicaid expansion – it proposed to have low-income adults in the workforce pay into a health care plan without contributions from state coffers. But it couldn’t get enough support from the Republican-led state legislature, which has joined other Republican legislatures around the country in opposing the Medicaid expansion that became an optional piece of the Affordable Care Act after a Supreme Court ruling.

That’s why CMS didn’t give it the green light, advising that the state need the support of its own legislature before coming to CMS for permission.

Holding out hope for Carolina Cares is state Rep. Donny Lambeth, a Winston-Salem Republican and co-sponsor of the Carolina Cares bill.

Though it didn’t get backing last year, he’s planning on re-introducing it and hopes to persuade more of his colleagues this go-around.

“We’re not giving up on it,” he said about the proposal.

Neither is Cohen, who served in the Obama administration as CMS’ chief operating officer.

“I’ve been very clear that it’s a necessary part of building a healthier North Carolina,” Cohen said. “I want to bring those $4 billion waiting in DC to North Carolina.”

Currently one-in-five North Carolinian rely on Medicaid coverage.

Learn more about Medicaid reform and read today’s full story at NC Health News.