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Buncombe County Initiatives Garner National Attention

A unique and collaborative program that helped retain more than 700 jobs during the COVID-19 global pandemic is one of three Buncombe County initiatives being honored by the National Association of Counties (NACo). The One Buncombe Fund raised more than $1.3 million to help more than 1,000 individuals and 116 small businesses affected by the pandemic, and for that work, it is recognized by NACo as a best practice other counties should consider replicating. “These awards provide Buncombe County with the opportunity to have our programs reviewed by subject matter expert panels to determine if our programs are best practices,” explains Performance Management Director Rafael Baptista. “Additionally, these awards demonstrate our innovative work locally, regionally, and nationally making us a more competitive employer, as potential employees want to work for innovative organizations.”

Baptista spearheaded the award application process and notes of the more than 3,000 NACo members, only 114 were recognized with an achievement award. The other programs earning recognition are the Sheriff’s Office Strategic Community Opioid Response (SCOR) Detention MAT (Medication Assisted Treatment) program and our development of departmental business plans.

“This recognition is a strong endorsement of the innovative work Buncombe County is doing. The Sheriff’s MAT program is a key part of our Strategic Plan’s resident well-being goal around reducing the impact of substance abuse in the community. And the One Buncombe Fund is a key part of our COVID response, but also of our vibrant economy goal of ensuring a diverse economy,” says Baptista. Buncombe County is honored and proud of all the ingenuity, hard work, and dedication of its employees to identify community needs and implement these pioneering resources and services. “Looking at other award winners, it was good to see how unique our programs are. We were the only County to win an award for in-custody treatment of substance use disorder and for strategic planning. This indicates that we are not only producing best practice work but also on the leading cusp of these topics,” says Baptista.

You can learn more about Buncombe County’s three nationally recognized programs below.

Strategic Community Opioid Response (SCOR) Detention MAT (Medication Assisted Treatment) Program

The Strategic Community Opioid Response (SCOR) Detention MAT (Medication Assisted Treatment) Program is an innovative program run by the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office to reduce opioid overdoses in the County and support effective linkage to treatment services for addiction recovery. Buncombe County has been disproportionally impacted by the opioid crisis. The program provides Medication Assisted Treatment to inmates with Opioid Use Disorder to support their successful exit from the judicial system. This program was created based on data that 57% of registered opioid overdose deaths in Buncombe County (gathered from five years of data) had at least one booking in the detention facility, meaning that in-custody treatment would be an effective strategy for combating opioid overdoses in Buncombe County. The program has promising outcomes as preliminary data analysis shows a 17% reduction in recidivism for those who use MAT verses untreated opioid uses. Additionally, early data findings reflect a 20% reduction of persons who died in 2020, having had a history of arrest in Buncombe County.

One Buncombe Fund

One Buncombe Fund is a community COVID-19 response fund. In the early weeks of the pandemic, it became clear that the impacts of the virus would stretch beyond public health and have a potentially devastating effect on the local economy. County government took quick action to establish the infrastructure and create a fund to support the basic needs of individuals who had lost employment due to COVID-19 and to provide bridge funding to small businesses during the crisis. The community banded together and raised nearly $1.4 million, including an initial $200,000 county economic development appropriation. In addition to public donations, contributions were received from other local governments, private corporations, and philanthropic foundations. From gifts as small as $5 and as large as $100,000, there were more than 1,000 total donations to the fund. True to its name, One Buncombe Fund embodied the spirit of community. In 2020, One Buncombe assisted more than 1,000 households with housing, utilities, and emergency assistance as well as provided 95 small businesses with relief to retain nearly 700 jobs. This public-private partnership enabled just-in-time economic support to help families and businesses stay afloat until longer-term relief, such as federal grants and loans, became available.

Departmental Business Plan Development

Believe it or not, Buncombe County never had a strategic plan, or at least not in the past 30 years. The result was that departments were running their daily operations independently, with no north star, and no aligned strategic direction. Our new County Manager made it her priority to change that when she took the helm in 2019. No time was wasted, and a strategic plan was finalized by County Commissioners to take effect July 1, 2020. We were then tasked with creating alignment with the goals of the departments. To that end, the Performance Management Department developed a robust, replicable, and consistent approach to the planning, development, implementation, and sustainability of departmental business plans that aligned with the County’s strategic plan. As a result, departments now have actionable goals that are tied to moving the needle on the County goals. These business plans, revised budget justification process, and intentional workgroups lay a clear path to how Buncombe County will achieve the goals set forth in the strategic plan.