Taking reproductive care on the road
Plus: St. Matthew pastor appeals removal; American adds summer nonstop to London; Charlotte Water loses lawsuit from developers; Murdaugh murder trial to start in S.C.; Pro pickleball tour coming
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Atrium Health’s ‘Drive to Thrive’ women’s care bus aims to address health care disparities and improve North Carolina’s infant mortality rate
Atrium Health’s new 38-foot women’s care bus will start rolling into neighborhoods across Charlotte later this month. The goal is to get patients connected to contraception, prenatal care and other reproductive health services. (Photo courtesy of Atrium Health)
by Michelle Crouch
Co-published with North Carolina Health News
A new type of mobile medical unit will roll into some of Charlotte’s most diverse neighborhoods beginning this week.
Called “Drive to Thrive,” it’s a giant turquoise Atrium Health bus that will offer pregnancy tests, early prenatal care, access to same-day contraception and other reproductive health services.
The goal is to reach women earlier, said Dr. Suzanna Fox, deputy chief physician executive and women’s health care service line leader for Atrium Health.
“When we don’t get in front of (pregnant) patients early enough, that’s when a baby may be born with a problem,” Fox said. “If we identify there is a risk, there are interventions we can do early in pregnancy. Many patients, when they get to us, it's too late.”
Believed to be the first mobile clinic of its kind in North Carolina, the “Drive to Thrive” bus is one of a growing number of initiatives across the state targeting a heart-wrenching problem: Too many babies are dying, especially African American babies.
Dismal infant mortality rate: Nearly seven out of every 1,000 infants born in North Carolina died in 2020, the most recent year for which data is available. That puts the state in the bottom tier in the U.S., No. 43 out of 50, when it comes to infant mortality — in a country that already has the worst infant mortality in the developed world.
Even in Mecklenburg County, which has two robust hospital systems, 415 infants have died over the past five years, according to health department data. That’s about 5.7 deaths per 1,000 infants.
Perhaps even more alarming is the Black/white disparity, both locally and at the state level. About 10 African American babies die in Mecklenburg per every 1,000 births, compared with 3.2 white babies, data shows.
Infant mortality is a complex problem closely tied to economic and social inequities, said Belinda Pettiford, who heads women and infant health at the state’s Department of Health and Human Services.
Health insurance coverage, access to transportation and other factors can affect a woman’s ability to access care, Pettiford said. Structural racism and discrimination in the health care system also play a role.
Local plan coming soon: Mecklenburg County Health Director Raynard Washington said his staff is already working on a strategic plan to address infant mortality at the local level.
He wasn’t familiar with the details of Atrium’s mobile unit, but he said, “If it’s making access to prenatal care or even family planning services more widely available, then those impacts are significant … it’s the kind of effort we need to make available broadly.”
A way to prevent pregnancies: Dr. Todd Kopczynski, an OB/GYN who retired last year from Novant Health, and his wife Barbara Kopczynski provided the startup funding for the initiative with a $500,000 gift to the Atrium Health Foundation.
Todd Kopczynski is also volunteering his time to see patients in the bus three days a week.
Their original idea was a mobile unit focused exclusively on contraception, Todd Kopczynski said. In his practice, he said, he saw too many women devastated by unplanned pregnancies, and too few who knew about long-acting reversible contraception methods like intrauterine devices (IUDs).
“When we put in an IUD, they get up to seven years without having an ‘oops,’ and they can take it out anytime they want,” he said. “We want people to have babies when they want to have them.”
A serendipitous reunion: A family member arranged a meeting between the Kopczynskis and Atrium’s women’s care practice leaders in late 2021.
When he walked into that meeting, Todd Kopczynski was surprised to see Suzanna Fox, whom he had worked with at Atrium three decades earlier when they were both resident physicians.
“I learned that she had a similar vision and had been for years trying to raise money to get a mobile medical unit,” he said. “It seemed like it was meant to be.”
Kopczynski said it was easy to combine his vision with Fox’s passion for early prenatal care, since both initiatives focus on boosting the health of moms and babies.
Ultrasounds and IUDs: The 38-foot Drive to Thrive vehicle includes a reception area, a restroom, two exam rooms with gynecological beds and a mobile ultrasound unit.
Atrium worked with local religious and community partners to choose locations in the community where the bus will be stationed, Fox said.
A bilingual social worker will sign eligible patients up for Medicaid and refer patients to local social services agencies, Fox said. Patients will have follow-up appointments made for them to be seen at a brick-and-mortar clinic near their home.
The idea is not to see the same patients over and over again in the mobile unit, Fox said, but “to ensure that all patients get connected to care. The thing that is closest to my heart right now is getting to patients who can’t get to us.”
Learn more: Atrium is working to find more community partners and to finalize the schedule below. Patients can call 704-468-0137 for the most updated schedule or to make an appointment. (Appointments aren’t required.)
Mayfield Memorial Missionary Baptist Church (Sugar Creek/I-85), 700 W. Sugar Creek Road: Every other Tuesday starting Jan. 31
The Relatives On Ramp Resource Center, 2219 Freedom Drive: Every other Wednesday afternoon starting Feb. 1
Caterpillar Ministries (Huntersville), 12000 Tuscaloosa Road: Every other Wednesday starting Jan. 25
WOW Supermarket (Charlotte), 6407 South Blvd: Every Monday starting Feb. 13
WOW Supermarket (Monroe), 1230 W. Roosevelt Blvd: Every Monday starting Feb. 6
Michelle Crouch covers health care. If you have tips or ideas for her, please shoot her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article is part of a partnership between The Ledger and North Carolina Health News to produce original health care reporting focused on the Charlotte area. For more information, or to support this effort with a tax-free gift, click here.
Accused St. Matthew Catholic church pastor Patrick Hoare continues to fight his removal, according to letter from bishop; Hoare issues rebuttal in a statement
Fr. Patrick Hoare, the former pastor of St. Matthew Catholic Church in Ballantyne — who has been on administrative leave since the summer of 2020 due to allegations of inappropriate conduct with minors — is appealing his removal high up the Catholic church’s chain of command.
In a letter emailed Saturday to parishioners of St. Matthew, Catholic Diocese of Charlotte Bishop Peter Jugis said that Hoare has had two of his appeals dismissed in Rome, and a third appeal is awaiting a ruling. Hoare responded to the letter with a statement of his own posted on a petition created by parishioners who support him.
St. Matthew is one of the largest Catholic churches in the United States, with more than 10,000 registered households.
Hoare was removed as pastor in 2020 after an investigation by the Charlotte diocese’s independent Lay Review Board found “instances in which observed behavior by Father Hoare with minors constituted boundary violations under our policy and raised questions about his judgment during ministerial assignments in the diocese,” Jugis said in his letter.
In December 2020, Jugis cited specific reasons for Hoare’s removal, including:
Hoare was repeatedly the subject of complaints from church members “that he failed to live up to contemporary standards of conduct with minors, with concerns raised at each parish where he had been assigned since his ordination in 2007, including St. Matthew.”
That multiple reports of inappropriate behavior in violation of the church’s standards of conduct with minors “raised grave concerns among parishioners and at a minimum called into question Father Hoare’s judgement.”
Jugis’ letter from Saturday said that Hoare appealed the December 2020 decision to church authorities in Rome in January 2021, and that appeal was denied in July 2021.
Hoare appealed again, and in November 2022 the church’s highest court ruled that Hoare’s appeal was “manifestly lacking in foundation” and “must be dismissed,” Jugis’ letter said. Hoare has made a final appeal to a larger panel, but it’s unclear when a decision will be made, Jugis wrote. That ruling is expected to be the Church’s last, the letter said. Until then, he remains on leave.
Hoare issued a rebuttal to rebuttal to Jugis’ letter, which was published Tuesday on a Change.org petition set up by parishioners of St. Matthew. In his statement, Hoare said he continues to try to reach out to Jugis for a resolution at the local level.
Hoare called the bishop’s statement about the allegations against him “inaccurate and implies an objective finding of fact that has not occurred, and, furthermore, the letter does not reflect the totality of the results of the canonical appeals to date.” —CB
Cheerio: American adds 3rd daily flight to London this summer; Charlotte will have nonstop service to 7 European cities
American Airlines says it will add a third daily Charlotte-London flight this summer. This one departs close to midnight, with service scheduled to begin April 4 and end Oct. 27.
Charlotte’s three daily flights to Heathrow will depart at 6:40 p.m., 8:15 p.m. and 11:25 p.m. Return flights will depart Heathrow at 9:30 a.m., 12:15 p.m. and 4:55 p.m.
The new flight reflects American’s effort to boost Heathrow service. This summer, the carrier will serve Heathrow with 26 daily departures from 11 U.S. cities. Dallas, Chicago and New York will each have four daily departures, while Charlotte and Los Angeles will each have three. Miami and Philadelphia will each have two, while Boston, Phoenix, Raleigh-Durham and Seattle will have one.
This summer, Charlotte will have American transatlantic service to Dublin, Frankfurt, London, Madrid, Munich, Paris and Rome, with all the flights aboard Boeing 777-200s seating 273 passengers. —Ted Reed
Charlotte Water to raise rates slightly and delay some projects after developers win lawsuit over new-connection fees
Charlotte Water customers might pay an additional 72 cents a year to help cover the costs of $106M stemming from two lawsuits over fees charged to developers for new water lines.
The fees — known as system development fees or capacity fees — are charged when a customer such as individuals or commercial homebuilders and developers apply for a new connection. The amount varies from roughly $3,500 to more than $1M depending on the size of the meter requested. Charlotte has had capacity fees in place since the 1960s.
What are the two lawsuits? In 2017, the N.C. legislature passed legislation that granted authority to cities to charge capacity fees. In 2018, a group of developers sued Charlotte Water in a class-action lawsuit for the capacity fees charged prior to 2017, before the legislation was passed.
In April, the N.C. Court of Appeals ruled that Charlotte Water had no authority before 2017 to charge capacity fees. Charlotte Water had to pay $90M after a three-year statute of limitations was determined ($30M a year for three years).
In 2021, the same law firm filed a second lawsuit against Charlotte Water about its methodology of charging the newly legal capacity fees and argued that Charlotte Water was collecting more than it should.
Charlotte Water denied the allegations but decided to settle the second lawsuit for an additional $16M to avoid further financial risk.
How will Charlotte Water pay the $106M? Last year, Charlotte Water increased its rates by 3.54%, which is already paying for the first $80M of costs connected to the lawsuits.
For the other $26M, Charlotte Water will increase its annual rate by 72 cents per household indefinitely if approved by the City Council.
Charlotte Water will also reduce cash flow to current capital investment projects and delay upcoming community projects, including a thermal-hydrolysis technology project that is predicted to be delayed by one year.
Charlotte isn’t the only city in this situation. There are more than two dozen municipal water utilities in North Carolina that are in similar class action lawsuits.
Charlotte Water is scheduled to present its recommendations to the Charlotte City Council on Monday to redefine Charlotte Water rates, charges and fees. —LB
Paddles up: Charlotte to host North Carolina Open for pro pickleball
The Professional Pickleball Association announced that Charlotte will host the North Carolina Open for the 2023 Carvana PPA Tour on May 4-7. The event will be held at Life Time fitness club in south Charlotte on Golf Links Drive in the Waverly area.
The 2023 PPA tour will be the first professional tour to host 25 events in a single-season, including 15 PPA Tour events, four Majors, three World Pickleball Championship Invitational events and three special events based on qualification. Other tour cities include Nashville, Atlanta, Orlando and Seattle.
The 2023 tour will have the largest professional pickleball single-season prize money purse of $5.5M. More than 60 top touring pros and 24 returning top-ranked players from 2022 are expected to compete in the 2023 tour.
Pickleball fans can watch the games on ABC, CBS, FOX, ESPN and on specialty networks like the Tennis Channel and Fanduel TV. — LB
You might be interested in these Charlotte events
Events submitted by readers to The Ledger’s events board:
THURSDAY: Modernism + Film - Murs Murs, 7 p.m., Knight Theater, 430 S. Tryon St. The Bechtler Museum of Modern Art presents a screening of the film “Murs Murs,” a kaleidoscopic documentary which Agnès Varda created about the striking murals that decorate the city of Los Angeles. Bursting with color and vitality, Mur Murs is as much an invigorating study of community and diversity as it is an essential catalog of unusual public art. $8 for members, $10 for nonmembers. (Cash bar starts at 6 p.m.)
FEB. 1: LWVCM Civics 101 Program, 6-8:30 p.m., in-person and online options available. The League of Women Voters of Charlotte Mecklenburg offer Civics 101 on six consecutive Wednesdays, from Feb. 1 to March 8. Sessions cover the Mecklenburg County Board of Elections, Mecklenburg County Government, City of Charlotte Government, CMS/Board of Education, the court system and media literacy. Free.
Police shooting in University City: Two people at a University City house were taken to the hospital Saturday after a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police officer fired a weapon in response to being shot at, CMPD said. Officers were attempting to serve involuntary commitment papers at a house off Back Creek Church Road, police said. It’s unclear whether bullets struck anybody, but no officers were injured. (Observer)
City Council member on MLK assassination: City Council member LaWana Mayfield, in a post on Twitter on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, wrote of the slain civil rights leader: “remember it was members of our #BlackCommunity that Killed HIM, not pretty yet true.” In a follow-up post after being contacted by publication QCity Metro, Mayfield acknowledged that James Earl Ray, who was white, was “arrested” for King’s assassination. She clarified that she had meant that the “#BlackCommunity attempted [to] kill his spirit.” (QCity Metro)
Murdaugh murder trial to start: In a case that has attracted international media attention, the murder trial of Alex Murdaugh is expected to start today in South Carolina. Murdaugh, a well-connected lawyer, is accused of shooting his wife and son to death as some of his financial schemes began to unravel. The trial is expected to last three weeks. (New York Post)
Remembering soccer player: Charlotte FC plans to hold a celebration of life honoring Anton Walkes, the player who was killed last week in a boating accident in Miami. It’s Tuesday at 3 p.m. at Bank of America Stadium and is open to the public. (Fox 46)
Airport gun record: The Transportation Security Administration found 117 firearms carried by passengers at Charlotte’s airport in 2022, up from 106 the previous year. (WSOC)
Ex-UNC Charlotte football coach sells house: Former Charlotte 49ers football coach Will Healy sold his 6,000 s.f. home in Cotswold for about $2.34M in December, about two months after losing his job. The 5-bedroom, 5.5-bathroom house on Hunter Lane has “a main-level primary suite, working scullery, high ceilings, oversized windows, wide plank floors and large bonus room.” He bought it for $2.2M about six months earlier. (Biz Journal; article is subscriber-only but non-subscribers can browse the 38 photos)
Unless you are a day trader, checking your stocks daily is unhealthy. So how about weekly? How local stocks of note fared last week (through Friday’s close), and year to date:
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