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New partnership aims to improve health across 21-county region

Staff report • Feb 20, 2019 at 8:47 AM

BRISTOL, Tenn. — The impact of the opioid crisis in our region is a core concern of a new partnership between Ballad Health, Healthy Kingsport and the United Way of Southwest Virginia, participants said Tuesday as the partnership's leadership council met for the first time.

The organizations hosted a press conference at Bristol Regional Medical Center on Tuesday to launch public awareness of the partnership.

“These focus areas operate at the intersection of health, economics and education, and it’s important to note that substance abuse is a common thread throughout all of them,” Dr. Paula Masters, Ballad Health’s vice president of population health, said. "When we took a broad look at the most critical issues facing our region, it became apparent that the best way to tackle the intergenerational cycles of poverty and poor health that exist in many parts of our region would be to focus our efforts on children and families, and substance abuse prevention is clearly a critical element for success for these target populations. Our focus areas are aligned with other broad initiatives that have been adopted by the state of Tennessee and commonwealth of Virginia, such as Tennessee’s Vital Signs and Virginia’s Plan for Well-Being, which lay out specific goals and strategies for health improvement."


The leadership council represents 24 regional organizations, along with more than 150 community stakeholder groups. It has created the region’s first Accountable Care Community, a collaborative group whose goal is to transform the health of a region spanning 21 counties in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia. The Accountable Care Community will focus on supportive systems, programs and environments that nurture strong children and families to help them develop the key characteristics that will lead to success in life. The 150 community stakeholder groups identified the concept of personal resiliency as being a primary differentiator between those who succeed in life and overcome adverse experiences and those who do not, which is especially critical to our region’s children.


There are, by some estimations, as few as 31 formal Accountable Care Communities in the United States. The one led by Ballad Health, Healthy Kingsport and United Way of Southwest Virginia — which has yet to receive a formal name — is the first of its kind for Tennessee and Virginia together, unique in the nation due to its operations spanning two states.


The leadership council members are: Patrick Brunty of the Russell County Department of Social Services, Claudia Byrd of Speedway Children’s Charities, Dr. Dennis Carter of Smyth County Public Schools, Laura Davis of Mount Rogers Community Services Board, Josh Davis of Eastman, Rebekah English of the Northeast Tennessee Regional Health Office, Lori Hamilton of K-VA-T Food City, Kristie Hammonds of Frontier Health, Marty Holliday of New River/Mount Rogers Workforce Development Board, Jim Lancaster of Cigna, Dr. Jeff Moorhouse of Kingsport City Schools, Dr. Linda Nelms of Walters State Community College, Erika Phillips of Hawkins County School District, Sandy Ratliff of Virginia Community Capital, Beth Rhinehart of the Bristol Chamber of Commerce, Dr. Karen Schetzina of East Tennessee State University Pediatrics, Dr. Sarah Seely-Dick of Highlands Pediatrics, Dr. Karen Shelton of Mount Rogers Health District, William Shepley of Grayson County, Dr. Joe Smiddy of the Health Wagon, Barry Staubus of Sullivan County, Mary Trigiani of New Peoples Bank, Kathy Waugh of YWCA of Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia, and Dr. Kris Westover of Mountain Empire Community College.

The initial group of organizations and many more who will join the effort will focus on key markers of success, such as strong starts for children, which will be characterized by factors like third-grade reading proficiency and substance-free families. Improvement will be accomplished by focusing on the social and cultural systems that impact these issues over time. Ultimately, the group wants to see more children succeed in school, go on to college, have productive careers, and more families succeed in overcoming generational barriers to success in life.

To create a foundation and momentum for change, the United Way of Southwest Virginia and Healthy Kingsport are working with regional employers, faith-based organizations, chambers of commerce, schools, health departments, nonprofits and interested individuals. The coalition will also be responsible for evaluating options, assessing available services and resources, managing key partnerships, creating synergies and collectively progressing toward population health.

Businesses, organizations and individuals interested in participating in the Accountable Care Community should contact Childress at kchildress@healthykingsport.org in Tennessee or Staton at info@unitedwayswva.org in Virginia.


“This is a community movement to improve our region, and the passion of people here will make it a success,” said Todd Norris, Ballad Health’s senior vice president of community health. “With our shared commitment, we can unite efforts around specific goals and share accountability for our success. While many of these organizations have been working diligently for years to make a difference in the areas of focus, others are new to this kind of work but are eager to get involved.”

“Healthy Kingsport is honored to work alongside Ballad Health, the United Way of Southwest Virginia and the many organizations and individuals who are serving this region daily as we come together to improve our health and well-being,” said Kandy Childress, executive director of Healthy Kingsport. “We look forward to listening and learning as we diligently focus on how to improve both the quality and length of life for our family members, friends and neighbors, while also bolstering our regional economic prosperity. While we have a lot of hard work ahead, our collective dedication will not falter until we have made life better for many more people living in our region.”

“We are pleased to expand on our impact across Southwest Virginia by assisting with the Accountable Care Community, which will share responsibility for the health of Southwest Virginia through sustained changes in economic, educational and health outcomes,” said Travis Staton, president and chief executive officer of United Way of Southwest Virginia. “Any work we can support to bring together cross-sector services is important to long-term, generational change in Southwest Virginia.”


Healthy Kingsport and the United Way of Southwest Virginia will facilitate the Accountable Care Community’s efforts and help to spearhead its work. Ballad Health and its department of population health will co-lead and support the Accountable Care Community through technical support, evaluation, community engagement, resources and programming. The leadership council will help to set direction and align focus overall and within sectors — such as education, business and community organizations — with every member organization having a unique role to play.

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