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HHS Public Health Staff Receive Awards For Outstanding Response to Chickenpox Outbreak

From HHS:

Dr. Jennifer Mullendore and Mary Backlund, RN, were recognized this month at the 10th Annual NCDHHS Communicable Disease Conference for their outstanding response to the chickenpox outbreak.

Dr. Mullendore, BCHHS Medical Director, received the 2019 Medical Director Anchor Award for her commitment to professionalism and to guarding the public’s health. Her sincere dedication to the health of the students during the outbreak was especially impressive and very evident to those involved in the response. Behind the scenes, Dr. Mullendore worked with staff and state leadership to develop a measured response to a problematic issue in our community- low immunization rates. At every step, she ensured that her information was accurate and that her messaging was appropriate, often times spending hours on the phone or over email to ensure that the most recent information was provided to parents and public. She completed at least 50 interviews during the course of the outbreak for local, regional and national media outlets. Interview requests are still coming in from all over the world- as far away as Japan!

Mary Backlund, RN, received the Spirit Award for the NC Western Region. As a Communicable Disease Nurse, Mary was instrumental in maintaining a positive working relationship with the private school throughout the varicella outbreak. Her kindness, professionalism and integrity were key to navigating this challenging situation. Communicable Disease (CD) nurses hold a responsibility to protect the public’s health and the privacy and confidentiality of people in the community and they are known for their knowledge, extreme discretion and the sincere desire to keep people safe and healthy. Mary Backlund fits this description perfectly. We are so fortunate to have a very strong communicable disease team in Buncombe County!

BCHHS Disease Control Program provides investigation, surveillance, reporting and prevention activities necessary to control communicable diseases and to protect the health of the public. This team conducted over 3,500 disease investigations in FY2018. During the 2018 fiscal year, there were an astounding 2,032 communicable diseases reported in Buncombe County!

CD staff are on call 24/7 and respond to reports of almost 100 reportable illnesses in NC. They also provide data and information to the State of North Carolina that help to identify emerging and concerning trends in our state and region. This team is key in harm reduction efforts to prevent the rise of communicable disease in our community. They provide STD testing and education at various locations in Buncombe County and are subject matter experts on vector borne illnesses such as rabies and LaCrosse Encephalitis and STDs such as syphilis, HIV, and hepatitis.

The Buncombe County Health and Human Services Clinic offers a range of services to support your health. Our skilled healthcare professionals ensure that you receive appropriate testing and treatment and take the time to answer your questions. Services are available to men, women, transgender and non-binary individuals. We are here to help you take care of yourself so that you can meet your goals. Appointments are confidential and low-cost. Our location is 40 Coxe Avenue, Asheville, NC 28801. We are open Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. Call us at (828) 250-5000 for more information or to make an appointment.

To find a STD testing site near you, visit