MAHEC Celebrates 50th Anniversary - TribPapers

MAHEC Celebrates 50th Anniversary

MAHEC CEO Bill Hathaway, M.D. enjoys improving healthcare outcomes through innovative, community-wide strategies.

Asheville – If you ask CEO William Hathaway, MD, what MAHEC is, he’ll say, “It’s Western North Carolina’s best-kept secret.” He said he meets people all the time who will say, “I’ve heard of MAHEC. They do a lot of great things.” But when he asks for specifics, they can’t answer.

Hathaway left his job as CMO of Mission HCA to become MAHEC’s CEO in 2022. He had been serving on the Board of Directors of MAHEC, even as chair. He also serves on the boards of the United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County, the YMCA of Western North Carolina, and the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce.

MAHEC is now located in a modern campus in Biltmore.
MAHEC is now located in a modern campus in Biltmore.

He had been a practicing cardiologist at Asheville Cardiology Associates and Mission Hospital since 1999. Representing the fourth generation of physicians in his family and being married to a doctor, Hathaway has always enjoyed working one-on-one to help people be healthier.

His personal interest in administration grew out of a study in which he participated in 2005. It is well known that seconds save lives during a heart attack, and this study showed that when first responders called hospitals to alert the care team to get things staged before the patient arrived, blood flow through the heart could be restored appreciably faster. The findings were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and have since become a standard of care.

This widened Hathaway’s appreciation for the good that can be done through shaping policy, training new generations of physicians, and developing strategies for activities like resource allocation. As CEO of MAHEC, Hathaway gets to take part in these community-wide decisions. Plus, he has always loved education, and he continues to give lectures.

MAHEC is an education and training center for healthcare professionals, with a special focus on filling treatment gaps in rural and underserved areas. It is also WNC’s largest nonprofit employer.

AHECs, or Area Health Education Centers, were created in 1971 through an act of Congress. AHECs are now found in 45 states, the District of Columbia, and three US territories. The impact of AHECs since then has been astounding.

North Carolina’s AHEC program began in 1972, but it wasn’t until two years later that the General Assembly supported the creation of a statewide network. Now, the state has nine AHECs plus an AHEC program at Duke University.

Hathaway said that, even though AHECs are a federal program run by states, North Carolina’s AHECs have a lot of autonomy in deciding how they want to go about their mission. “If you’ve seen one AHEC, you’ve seen one AHEC,” he said.

MAHEC (the M stands for mountain) was founded in 1974. It operates a modern campus in Biltmore where patients can receive care at family medicine, internal medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, psychiatry, and dental offices. These clinics are open to all members of the public on a sliding scale, although at this time, MAHEC can accept new patients only at the family health, internal medicine, and OB/GYN practices.

MAHEC is the home of branch campuses of UNC’s schools of medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, and public health. It also provides continuing professional development for a wide array of health professions.

Furthering its mission to recruit future healthcare professionals, MAHEC provides educational opportunities, like mentoring, workshops, internships, and summer camps, to introduce middle- and high-school students to careers in medicine. Traditionally, conferences have been held exclusively in Asheville, but this year, a second conference and expo will be held in Sylva on April 23. Hathaway explained that opportunities like this turn kids, who don’t have any doctors in their family or even their community, on to careers they may never have considered.

MAHEC is a trusted name in public health. It operated a COVID clinic at the height of the pandemic, and currently it does a lot of work with the opioid epidemic. Overdose rates from fentanyl are skyrocketing because it is being laced with increasingly pernicious substances, such as xylazine, a veterinary tranquilizer that is described as a “skin-rotting zombie drug.”

Hathaway said MAHEC clinicians work with overdose victims right after they are resuscitated to get them into rehab. Normally referred to as “rock bottom,” Hathaway sees it as “that golden hour,” before cravings wash away agonizing memories from the throes of death.

Hathaway said one of MAHEC’s greatest challenges is “paying for what needs to be done.” For this, staff are now working on the launch of a major capital campaign, coinciding with the nonprofit’s 50th anniversary this year.