SECU Family House Is Home For Thousands

More than 2,000 people call it home each year – and more than a few of them say it’s been a literal lifesaver.

It’s the SECU Family House on Old Mason Farm Road, with 40 rooms to house out-of-town patients (and their families) receiving treatment at UNC Hospitals. It housed 2,271 people in the last fiscal year, all of them coming in from at least 40 miles away.

SECU Family House 2015 - Interior

It costs about $82 each night to operate a room – but with the help of donations from generous organizations and community members, the Family House is able to charge families only $35 per night, far less than the cost of a hotel. (The Family House operates on a pay-what-you-can model, so some families pay even less.)

Sondra Komada of the SECU Family House stopped by WCHL and spoke with Aaron Keck – joined by Kara Ross of Jacksonville and her mother Kris Murtagh. Ross and Murtagh are staying at the house – Murtagh coming all the way from Pennsylvania – while Ross is undergoing cancer treatment at UNC.


The Family House is currently raising funds through the “40 in 40 Challenge”: through December 1, every dollar raised up to $40,000 will be matched by another donor, for a total of up to $80,000.

For more information on the SECU Family House – and how you can become a volunteer or donor – visit

Sunday, Blue Zone Hosts “A Tasteful Affair” For RMH

More than two dozen local restaurants, bakeries, breweries and food vendors will be showcasing their wares for a cause this Sunday, November 1, from 6-8 pm at Kenan Stadium’s Blue Zone.

It’s “A Tasteful Affair,” an annual event to raise funds for the Ronald McDonald House of Chapel Hill. This year marks the 25th anniversary of A Tasteful Affair, one of the RMH’s biggest annual fundraisers.

It’s an especially big year for the Ronald McDonald House, which provides housing for families with kids receiving treatment at UNC Hospitals. They’re undergoing a major expansion, which will enable them to serve even more families. (The RMH houses nearly 2,200 families each year, but it has to turn away about 800 more for lack of room.)

Elizabeth Hullender of the Ronald McDonald House joined Aaron Keck on WCHL to discuss A Tasteful Affair.


Find out more about A Tasteful Affair and purchase tickets at this link.

UNC Hospitals Ranks Nationally: USNWR

US News and World Report has just released its annual list of “America’s Best Hospitals,” and UNC Hospitals were recognized all across the board.

The list ranks UNC Hospitals as the no. 3 hospital in North Carolina and no. 2 in the Raleigh-Durham area. (Duke University Hospital ranked no. 1 in the state.) UNC Hospitals also ranked in the top 50 in the nation in five specialties: cancer, gynecology, pulmonology, urology, and ear, nose and throat.

UNC’s School of Medicine ranked no. 2 in the nation for primary care and no. 22 for research.

See the details of UNC Hospitals’ USNWR rankings here.

Two Hit By Car Thurs Night On Franklin St

Another incident involving a vehicle striking a pedestrian – two pedestrians, in this case – occurred late Thursday night in downtown Chapel Hill.

According to Chapel Hill police, the incident took place on West Franklin Street at about 11 p.m. Two pedestrians, one male and one female, were struck by a vehicle in the crosswalk by SunTrust Bank.

The driver remained on scene, and both pedestrians were transported to UNC Hospitals with minor injuries.

The full statement from Chapel Hill Police is below:

“On Thursday at approximately 11 p.m., the Chapel Hill Police Department responded to a reported traffic accident involving two pedestrians on W. Franklin St. Upon officers arrival they found a male and female that had reportedly been struck by a vehicle while in the crosswalk in front of SunTrust Bank.  Both the male and female were transported to UNC Hospital with what appeared to be only minor injuries. Both driver and vehicle were still on scene. The investigation is ongoing and additional information will be forthcoming.”

The Town of Chapel Hill has stepped up its efforts to promote bike and pedestrian safety this month – including targeted enforcement and electronic signs in high-traffic areas. Read more about it here.

“Be Loud 14″ Takes Over Cat’s Cradle – For A Cause

Head to the Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro this Friday and Saturday for “Be Loud 14,” a two-day musical extravaganza to benefit kids with cancer.

The show begins on Friday at 8:00, with performances by the Pressure Boys (reuniting for only the second time in 20 years), the Connells, and the Dexter Romweber Duo. It continues on Saturday afternoon with a festival in the parking lot, featuring music, poetry, and food trucks – and concludes with another concert on Saturday night at 9:00, with A Number of Things and Let’s Active along with a repeat performance by the Pressure Boys.

It’s all to benefit the Be Loud! Sophie Foundation. Founded by Niklaus Steiner (director of UNC’s Center for Global Initiatives) in honor of his late daughter Sophie, the foundation exists to help teens and young adults with cancer “pursue their own interests whatever they are” – to live normal lives, even while undergoing treatments.

Niklaus Steiner and Pressure Boys drummer Rob Ladd joined WCHL’s Aaron Keck on the air Thursday afternoon.

Tickets to “Be Loud 14″ are $40 for the full weekend – or you can buy passes for each individual show as well, for $10-$25. For tickets, visit or – and visit for more information about the Be Loud! Sophie Foundation.

As The Epidemic Worsens, A UNC Doctor Details The Battle Against Ebola

In the three and a half weeks Dr. William Fischer spent in Gueckedou, Guinea, he encountered between thirty and fifty patients suffering from Ebola. Only seven survived.

“It’s hard. It’s really hard work. It’s really intense work,” says Fischer. “But I’m totally sold on this idea that we can improve mortality with even just basic mechanisms right now.”

Fischer is a pulmonary and critical care physician at UNC Hospitals. He traveled to Guinea in May with the World Health Organization to help battle the latest outbreak of Ebola.

The current outbreak is the largest and deadliest on record. More than 1,200 have been infected and at least 670 have died in the past four months.

Unlike past outbreaks, which were located in remote regions in Central Africa, this began in West Africa, starting in Guinea before spreading to Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria.

“It’s so easy for infection and infected patients to cross international borders, but it’s much more difficult for resources to follow that path,” says Fischer. “Increasingly we’re becoming a much more interconnected world. People are much more mobile. This is a very nice reminder of that interconnectedness, as this population is incredibly mobile and that mobility is sustaining this epidemic.”

The Ebola virus produces a hemorrhagic fever that is spread by contact with bodily fluids. The mortality rate among those infected can reach as high as 90 percent. There’s currently no cure, no vaccine, and no specific treatment, but Fischer says aggressive rehydration can help victims fight off the virus.

“I initially was skeptical about what care we could provide, but in fact, what I saw was that we can have a dramatic effect on reducing Ebola-related mortality with aggressive critical care.”

Yet Fischer said in his three weeks treating patients only a handful recovered, and when they did, the doctors were often happier than the survivors.

“One of the most difficult things about Ebola is that it doesn’t just kill people- it wipes out their families,” says Fischer. “This gentleman we were able to get through, but he lost his mother-in-law, his mother, and his wife and their unborn child. So you can imagine the despair that permeated every inch of that room when he heard that his wife had passed shortly after delivering their child.”

One of the biggest challenges facing doctors battling this current outbreak is convincing communities and individuals to seek medical treatment at the first sign of infection.

Western medical resources flood into the region only when an outbreak occurs, forming an association between doctors and death that’s hard for residents in the affected areas to ignore.

“They don’t understand that their best chance for survival is to come to a treatment facility early and that their best chance at preventing transmission to their loved ones is to go to the treatment facility,” says Fischer. “There’s an incredible amount of distrust between the people and the healthcare providers because they see their loved ones go to these facilities and then 90 percent of them return in a body bag. Facing those statistics, I’d be skeptical of those treatment facilities.”

Fischer says medical personnel need to reach out to community leaders to help stem the spread of the virus and build trust.

“This is a challenge. This is a major, major challenge. But it’s also an opportunity. If we can empower local community leaders to spread the word about the benefits of presenting early to a treatment facility- the benefits being it increases your chance of survival and decreases the chance of transmission- then we can have patients present earlier. If we can reduce that mortality we’re going to improve the trust between the community and the healthcare providers.”

This latest outbreak began in March and continues unabated. Fischer notes that with a twenty-one day incubation period and an increasingly mobile populace, this disease is poised to spread.

“I don’t see this ending any time soon, unfortunately. I do think that we are going to have to dedicate and we should dedicate a tremendous amount of resources, both from a material perspective as well as from a human infrastructure perspective in order to stop this outbreak before it gets even worse.”

Just last week a seemingly healthy man boarded an airplane in Liberia, only to arrive in Lagos, Nigeria with symptoms of Ebola. He later died. Officials are still trying to track other passengers on that plane.

The disease takes a toll on healthcare workers too, as they are often in contact with the bodily fluids that spread Ebola. Top doctors in Liberia and Sierra Leone have succumbed to the disease, and two Americans, a doctor and an aid worker, are currently in quarantine suffering symptoms. This has prompted two North Carolina-based charities to call for an evacuation of all non-essential staff from Liberia.

Nonetheless, Fischer says he is eager to return to the region.

“I’d like to go back. I think, for me, leaving was just as difficult as going. It was the thought that I was leaving in the midst of the epidemic as opposed to the end of the epidemic. I feel a strong draw to go back. My hope would be that I could, through aggressive critical support, reduce the mortality and then improve community trust.”

You can read Dr Fischer’s dispatches from Guinea here.

UNC Hospitals Face Medicare Penalties

UNC Hospitals may have to pay millions in Medicare penalties for a high number of patient infections and complications, according to a provision of the new health care law.

In an effort to lower health costs, the Affordable Care Act has authorized Medicare to make assessments of hospital-acquired conditions, and crack down on hospitals that aren’t meeting their standard.

Preliminary scores show 16 N.C. hospitals are currently at risk of penalties, including two of the largest in the Triangle: UNC Hospitals and WakeMed in Raleigh.

Medicare authorities score on a ten-point scale, with the worst of the infections and health complications of hospitals ranking higher. UNC Hospitals was scored at 7.375; WakeMed received a score of 8.025.

All scores above 7 fall below the 25th percentile.

“Medicare is comparing all hospitals across the country, but it isn’t making any adjustments or consideration for how sick the patients are to begin with. So if one hospital takes more sicker patients than another, it’s reasonable to think that there may be, in the aggregate, more infections. But that may not have anything to do with the quality of care that’s provided in the hospital.”

That’s Brian Goldstein, executive vice president and chief operating officer at UNC Hospitals on why its 801-bed facility ranks higher than most in hospital-acquired conditions.

Goldstein says the scores are self-reported and submitted to Medicare by UNC Hospitals, and rankings are calculated solely through assessments of Medicare billing, and monitoring hospitals for infections.

Hospitals were notified of their scores in April, allowing for administration to review their rankings before the final scores and penalties are released in the fall and administered in the 2015 fiscal year.

The scoring system has no minimum passing grade, leaving hospitals that do not receive a performance requirement score less than 7 with definite penalizations, and a 1 percent cut in Medicare reimbursements.

The program does not recognize any patient care documentation or factors outside of their final tally of infections, such as how sick the patients are upon admittance, or the socioeconomic backgrounds of hospital patients.

“Twenty-five percent of hospitals are going to get penalized through this program, no matter how much they improve,” Goldstein said. “The actual scoring is based on how the hospital compares to itself from a baseline period of 2006 or 2007. That’s how Medicare chose to score this so, let’s say, you’re a hospital that wasn’t doing so well in 2006 and 2007, but now you’re doing better. You’re going to get a better score. Now, let’s say you were already doing well (at that time) and you didn’t improve as much and your infection rates might even be lower than the other hospital but you’re still going to get a worse score in this program.”

Goldstein compares this system to a teacher “grading on a curve”, and announcing on the first day of school that 25 percent of students will automatically fail, no matter how well they do throughout the course – just because that is class policy.

The penalties provided by the Affordable Care Act have been a controversial hot topic in the hospital industry, as many of the largest and more research-based hospitals treat the sickest patients, putting them at a higher risk of infections and other common complications.

Goldstein told WCHL the Association of American Medical Colleges recently wrote to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to alter their scoring system for a more holistic reflection of the quality of a hospital’s care.

With final scores soon to be released, Goldstein says he believes it’s important for the Medicare system to be reformed, but also for hospitals across the nation to keep their focus on the health and safety of their patients.

“We could go a lot deeper and wider in discussing all of the efforts we make everyday to aggressively find and fix problems that could lead to safety issues and quality. That all needs to continue, but all we’re asking for is for these programs that tie back to dollars to be based on a fair assessment of the data that all hospitals provide.”

Fire at UNC Hospitals’ Parking Deck Shuts Down Walking Bridge

An early-morning fire beneath the walkway between the hospital and the Dogwood Parking Deck destroyed five golf carts, and temporarily shut down the bridge across Manning Drive.

Fortunately, the 2:30 a.m. blaze was extinguished by Chapel Hill firefighters in about 15 minutes, and no one was hurt, according to a press release from UNC Hospitals.

But as a result, the traffic light at the intersection of Manning and Hospital Drives was not working. Drivers were cautioned to proceed as if there were a stop sign there.

Pedestrians were advised to cross an alternate bridge or use the street.

Investigators have learned that the fire was caused by a battery malfunction in one of the golf carts.

The bridge and the valet parking lot will remain closed until a cleanup of the area is completed.

WRAL News reported that hospital visitors said they heard and felt an explosion.

***Update: The traffic light is once again operational; the pedestrian bridge has been checked for structural damage and is reported to be safe for pedestrians and golf carts.

WRAL News reported that fire began when a battery in a golf cart near the valet stand malfunctioned.

Breaking Ground: Ronald McDonald Of CH Celebrates Future Expansion To Serve More Families

For now, T’nesha Davis calls the Ronald McDonald House of Chapel Hill home. Her son, just a baby, was born 25 weeks early, weighing only 1 pound, 7 ounces.

While he receives critical medical care at UNC Hospitals, Davis said the Ronald McDonald House has proven to be a sanctuary for her family.

She watched on Tuesday as ground was broken on an expansion project that will enable the House to serve more families in need and provide them with support that goes beyond a place to call home.

“Knowing that this place is here is a blessing. It is a blessing,” Davis said.

She was pregnant with her second son and went in for a routine checkup when she found out some news that would change her family’s life.

The doctor told her that she had severe preeclampsia, a rapidly progressive life-threatening condition that affects both the mother and unborn child. By conservative estimates, these disorders are responsible for 76,000 maternal and 500,000 infant deaths each year.

Doctors told Davis that emergency surgery was necessary or both could lose their lives.

She traveled from Fayetteville, where she lives with her young son and husband who serves in the military, to Chapel Hill to seek medical care at UNC Hospitals.

After her successful operation, she later needed somewhere to stay while her infant son received the essential care he needed in Chapel Hill.

“It is not a place where it is a pity party. They are actually here to support you and to help you through this time. You can make a lot of new friends here. Don’t come in thinking that it is just a doomsday because your child is in the hospital. They are going to keep you going and uplift you,” Davis said.

Davis said in a matter of months, the House’s staff and fellow families became her support system.

“I wouldn’t have been able to be without my son and be far away from him. I’m a hands-on mom. I cry when I can’t be with him during the day because I have to be with my other son. But, having them [the Ronald McDonald House staff] and knowing that they can watch him—it’s a big extended family,” Davis said.

The House serves any family with a child who is receiving treatment at a local hospital and lives outside of a 35-miles radius of the medical facility, regardless of their ability to pay.

Though the House has helped more than 2,200 families of seriously ill or injured children, nearly 800 families are turned away each year due to lack of space. And this demand will only increase in the coming years as UNC Hospitals continues to expand.

In an effort to meet the growing need for its services, the House celebrated its groundbreaking ceremony on planned expansion that will double the facility’s current square-footage and increase the number of rooms from 29 to 53.


Shelley Day, Executive Director of the House, said it became apparent in 2009 that the expansion would be necessary.

“Frankly, we are all looking forward to late Spring 2015 when we will open and be able to say to every family who needs us, ‘Come on down, we have room,’” Day said.

Day was joined by other members of the community, including Woody and Jean Durham, to commemorate the beginning of a project that will impact so many lives. Durham was the longtime play-by-play radio announcer of the UNC basketball and football teams and the “Voice of the Tar Heels.”

The Durhams served as honorary co-chairs of the fundraising efforts for the expansion.

The House is also making history with a pediatrics palliative care pilot program called, “Loving Hands,” which provides care for children facing the end of their lives through a partnership with Hospice. It’s the first of its kind in North Carolina and in the global Ronald McDonald House network.

For more information on how you can donate to the Ronald McDonald House expansion project, visit the  “” website.

Knife Wielder Committed To UNC Hospitals

Authorities say the man who was arrested for pulling a knife on a UNC student Sunday afternoon has been involuntarily committed to UNC hospitals.

According to the Daily Tar Heel, Chapel Hill resident and 31-year-old UNC graduate, Jesse Alan Kister was committed in UNC Department of Public Safety’s custody on Sunday. When he’s released, he will be charged with assault with a deadly weapon.

Chapel Hill Police and DPS coordinated the search for Kister. CHPD found him in The Chapel of the Cross on East Franklin Street. He was taken to the Chapel Hill Police Station and quickly turned over to DPS since the crime took place on campus.

Kister was found in possession of four knives valued at $100, according to the incident report.

Alert Carolina issued an emergency warning shortly after 4:00 p.m., when the incident first took place. Buildings on campus were locked down—including Carmichael Arena, where the UNC women’s basketball team was playing its first-round NCAA tournament game.

Alert Carolina issued the all-clear at 5:18 p.m. Sunday afternoon. There were no injuries.

The DTH interviewed one of Kister’s former professors who said he only knew Kister in the classroom and didn’t know him on a personal level.

Kister received his bachelor’s degree in information science from UNC in 2005. He also earned a master’s in health care administration in 2008 and information science in 2011.

DTH Article