For the last quarter century, The Business Journal of Tri-Cities, TN/VA has called the attention of the business community to the individuals and organizations who make a positive impact on the provision of health care in the region.
Health care makes up one-sixth of the nation’s economy, and is an even larger player in the local economy. Two of the three largest employers in the region are healthcare companies. Add to that the number of healthcare employees not directly affiliated with those two hospital systems, and you see how vital healthcare professionals are to Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia’s business community.
Not only is health care the largest and most important industry in the region from a macro perspective, it also touches everyone on a very real and personal level.
So what defines a Healthcare Hero? All have earned the respect and admiration of colleagues, patients and the communities in which they work. Nominations come from those populations. Each of the nominees for this year’s class – and this year’s group was the largest pool of nominees yet – is already a hero. Health care is a field that lends itself to selfless action and tremendous dedication.
It is our privilege at The Business Journal to recognize these heroes, as we did at a luncheon at the MeadowView Conference Resort and Convention Center July 21. We do this on behalf of the entire business community. After all, without quality healthcare providers, none of the rest of our businesses can survive. We all need healthy employees and customers.
The Business Journal wishes to recognize the dedication and commitment of our title partner for the 2017 Healthcare Heroes, Mountain States Health Alliance, as well as presenting partners Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee and Wellmont Health System, and partners First Citizens Bank and Frontier Health.
Cup Of Kindness Awards
Community Service Award: The Virginia Appalachian Tricollege Nursing Program
The Community Service Award goes to an individual or organization for excellence in public health.
This year’s honoree is the Virginia Appalachian Tricollege Nursing Program. Since 1976, when Mountain Empire Community College joined a pre-existing partnership between Southwest Virginia Community College and Virginia Highlands Community College, this program has turned out more than 5,000 graduates. But what’s really special about that number is the fact that more than 80 percent of those nurses continue to live and work in this region. When it comes to many of the smaller, rural hospitals in the region, the majority of the nurses in place came from this program. Every year another 240 or so nurses join the workforce from the Tricollege program. And already this year the program has announced expansions at two area hospitals, the Bristol Regional Medical Center, which partners with Southwest Virginia Community College and Holston Valley Medical Center, which partners with Mountain Empire Community College.
Distinguished Service Award: Phyllis Hamilton
The Distinguished Service Award goes to an individual who has shown leadership and excellent service over a sustained period of time. This year’s honoree is Phyllis Hamilton of the Johnson City Medical Center.
According to the numbers provided by Mountain States for last year’s Book of Lists, MSHA last year had 8,415 employees. Each of those employees has, on his or her employee badge, a unique employee number. Phyllis Hamilton’s is No. 1. This year she celebrates 65 years of service, having joined the staff of Johnson City Memorial Hospital in 1952. She charted on floors with iron lungs. She became such a passionate supporter of local blood drives that in May of this year, Blood Assurance dedicated all its drives in her honor. Over the years, she went from being, as she says, “just a secretary” to a trusted advisor and friend, bringing the value of her years of experience to a growing company. In 2012, when she had 60 years of service under her belt, she came back from hip replacement surgery and has kept working since. The distinguished service award is about dedication, and no one’s dedication tops that of Phyllis Hamilton.
Innovation Award: State of Franklin Healthcare Associates
The Innovation Award rewards innovative thinking in the region’s healthcare community. This year sees two Innovation Award honorees. The first is State of Franklin Healthcare Associates.
The Acute Care Clinic at State of Franklin is designed to treat mild exacerbations of chronic conditions such as COPD, congestive heart failure, asthma, pneumonia, UTIs – often things for which many patients need “just a simple IV.” This allows patients, especially during the hours of the early morning and evening, to avoid needing to pay for more expensive emergency room visits – the most costly healthcare available. Recently Blue Cross Blue Shield recognized State of Franklin as “Best in Class” for lowest emergency room usage.
Innovation Award: HMG
The 2017 Innovation Award also goes to HMG, Holston Medical Group. The HMG Extensivist Clinic is an answer to the question of how to create extensive care for the five percent of the population that consumes almost half the national healthcare expense – in an outpatient setting with emergency and ICU-trained nurses and physicians.
There are no overnight stays at the Extensivist Clinic, and in four of five cases, the patient will go home to sleep and eat. Twenty percent of patients seen in the Extensivist Clinic are admitted to the hospital. Because of the clinic, HMG has seen an increase in value-based payments for cost savings and improved quality. For creating a next step in a more efficient continuum of care, the Innovation Award goes to HMG, Holston Medical Group.
Meritorious Service Award: Cicely Alvis
The Meritorious Service Award goes to an individual who has shown excellence in administration. The 2017 honoree is Cicely Alvis, site director for the Crisis Stabilization Unit and CALM Center at Frontier Health. Alvis wrote and implemented the Crisis Stabilization Unit’s accountability system. She re-wrote the crisis stabilization protocols, introducing the current responsibility assignment matrix. In short, she was the guiding force behind creation of the system that lets everyone know exactly what is expected of them in a time of crisis. She’s brought Frontier statewide recognition in the suicide prevention network in the co-occuring disorders learning community and she is recognized statewide for her passion and drive in the field of suicide prevention.
Support Service Award: Scrubs the Bear
The Support Service Award goes to an individual for outstanding assistance in the field of health care. Over the years this award has been presented to everyone from financial benefactors to staffers to volunteers. In 2017, it’s going to a doctor who brings a bear to life in order to brighten the days of sick children.
Inside the Scrubs the Bear costume is Dr. Deb Joyner, an ETSU administrator who has given countless hours making a positive, comforting impact on children and their families at Niswonger Childrens’ Hospital. While Scrubs is an easy-to-identify marketing symbol who can be seen on specialized license plates throughout the region, he was created not for marketing purposes, but rather to be a non-threatening, even welcoming visitor to children’s rooms at the hospital. Scrubs will see kids off before they undergo surgery and drop by during recovery. For most children, Scrubs’ appearance is the brightest part of their stay.
Dr. Steven Baumrucker
Dr. Steven Baumrucker sits on the Wellmont Medical Associates controlled substance committee. He is a tireless educator for providers regarding the opioid abuse problem in the region. Since 2015, Dr. Baumrucker has held more than 15 educational events regarding the safe prescribing of opioids for nearly 1,000 healthcare providers in the region. He has since expanded that program into an online presentation called “Enduring Materials.” Dr. Baumrucker’s nominators also noted his work as a palliative care physician. He serves as system medical director for Palliative Care, as an assistant clinical professor at ETSU teaching palliative care, and as editor-in-chief of the American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Care.
Dr. Rebecca Buchanan
As an eight-time NCAA All-America athlete, Rebecca Buchanan knows good health is a function of good habits. To that end, now-Professor Buchanan of Emory and Henry College in Virginia has dedicated her life to influencing young people, especially young women and girls, to pursue long-term health. Buchanan has raised funding for, and administered, a Girls on the Run program for five Southwest Virginia counties, now serving more than 300 participants. She has also created a program at Patrick Henry High School to help students improve their lives through non-traditional physical education experiences including yoga, dance and self-defense. Teachers who have implemented her “brain energizer” exercises in their classes have seen improvements in reading assessment scores.
In the business world, we talk about things like economies of scale and dealing in volume. Since arriving at Frontier Health in 2012, Katherine Combs has served nearly 5,000 children and their families with a variety of behavioral health issues from school related problems to ADHD with complexities to adjustment issues to serious issues of trauma and loss. Because of her specific skills with young children, she has been asked by both the Carter and Washington County schools to work with their students – providing on-site services and as a mental health consultant. In addition, she directs the Nurturing Parent program for Frontier Health, building parenting skills for at-risk and/or struggling parents. Combs is also a tireless advocate in the local media for the area’s children.
Dr. Scott Dulebohn
Dr. Scott Dulebohn is a former PriceWaterhouse CPA and executive at Sherwin Williams who decided nothing about those careers was brain surgery – so he became a neurosurgeon. In addition to that work, he maintains his entrepreneurial spirit by having been one of the founders of statpearls.com, a continuing education website targeted to clinicians. A database of peer-reviewed articles in more than 40 specialty areas, Dulebohn’s site also includes multiple-choice questions for every area. He has offered it free of charge to all Mountain States clinical team members. In his spare time, Dr. Dulebohn can be found on the VA campus, serving our veterans.
Dr. Lou Fincher
Dr. Lou Fincher is the dean of the Emory & Henry College School of Health Sciences, and that’s good news for Southwest Virginia. She was instrumental in starting a falls prevention center at the school. Under her watch, the school began offering graduate degrees in physical therapy, occupational therapy and physician assistant education. It is also home to two facilities that offer free service to two key populations in the region: an obesity research center and a free clinic serving the uninsured and under-insured. Her most widely hailed achievement remains the accreditation of the school, a process which she oversaw after a previous attempt under other administration had stumbled. Because of the achievements of Dr. Fincher and her team, Emory and Henry and the population of Southwest Virginia both have brighter, healthier futures.
As a board member at Takoma Regional Hospital for more than 30 years, Sharon Folk has brought a record of business success that includes work with her family business, National Business Forms, the Andrew Johnson Golf Club and the board of Andrew Johnson Bank. She also made a significant gift to the expansion and renovation of the Takoma emergency department, increasing the size of the department by half again the number of beds, each in a private room, including designated suites for cardiac care, pediatrics, orthopedics, respiratory isolation and chemical decontamination. More recently, she has been a key driver in an initiative to renovate and improve the hospital’s nursery. Perhaps most notably, however, has been the dedication to quality and safety initiatives throughout her time on the Takoma board.
Dr. Richard Gendron
With 39 years of experience providing pediatric care, Dr. Richard Gendron has patients aged four to forty. And his background as a pediatric behaviorist helps him deal with everyone from four year olds to forty year olds. Gendron has also been one of the leaders in the development of electronic medical records in the region. He’s been interested in that field since it was virtually the stuff of science fiction back in 1972. In fact, it was HMG’s full utilization of electronic medical records that brought him to HMG back in 1996. He has served 18 of 21 years as chair of Quality Assurance at HMG, covering the work done at 26 locations with more than 150 providers, all while maintaining the pediatric practice and making full pediatric rounds.
The students and volunteers of the Healing Hands Health Center Dental Clinic
Through the volunteerism of these students and professionals, the Healing Hands Dental Clinic is able to offer service for minimal – and sometimes no – payment. No patient is turned away for their inability to pay the fees of $20 cleanings and $50 oral surgery. The clinic partners with both the East Tennessee State University Dental Hygiene Program and the University of Tennessee College of Dentistry, meaning some of these students drive here from Memphis to participate. Those students and volunteers have had 22,500 patient visits over the last 20 years, providing free or low-cost services with a market value of more than $4 million.
The Birthplace and NICU staff at Holston Valley Medical Center
Drs. James Beckner, Chris Martin, Pius Powers, Asra Tanveer, and Elizabeth Michael, along with CRNA Scott Davis and members of the respiratory therapy staff were nominated by a patient who had been admitted in January for labor induction. Complications arose, both for mother and child, during the birth. The mother spent six days at Holston Valley and the child spent seven days in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. A cynic might say that in saving two lives, the staff was simply doing its job. The nominator is, however, not a cynic. She is a team member at Holston Valley, who works side by side with these same providers day in and day out. If anyone is qualified to judge their heroism, this was the patient to do so.
Phyllis McKinney has been an energetic, enthusiastic volunteer at Takoma Regional Hospital for more than three decades now. She has logged more than 13,000 hours – the equivalent of around $314,000 value – to the service of the hospital, and thus to its patients and the community. She created the Healing Hands program and introduced the Love Lights program as well. She has coordinated everything from bake sales to holiday bazaars, raising well in excess of $600,000 for emergency department expansion and birthing room renovations. She is the de facto leader of a 45-person contingent of volunteers and has made it known she has no plans to slow down anytime soon – for which Takoma is grateful.
Dr. Alan Meade
Dr. Alan Meade’s contributions to the region’s health and wellbeing go beyond his practice in rehabilitative care at HMG. He was a key player in the development of the Green Belt in Kingsport and has worked with Healthy Kingsport on projects including Live Sugar Freed, Walk Across Tennessee and the Tennessee Healthier Workplace Initiative. Dr. Meade lobbies state legislative representatives on health issues and was invited by House Speaker Beth Harwell to testify in front of the opioid task force in February of this year. Recently he accepted the role of president of the HMG Political Action Committee. For his role not only in the provision of care, but in the public sector’s acceptance of its responsibility in the field of healthcare, Dr. Alan Meade is a 2017 Healthcare Hero.
Jim Moore has borne the responsibility of making sure all of Wellmont Health System’s facilities are as efficiently functional as possible while still being aesthetically welcoming to patients. As vice president of Facilites, he and his team maintain seven hospitals, from tertiary hospitals to small rural facilities, plus the growing network of Heart Institute and Cancer Institute facilities. The hospital challenges are legion, from managing huge projects like the Holston Valley renovation to the building of Hancock County Hospital to keeping 56-year-old Hawkins County Memorial Hospital up to date. Add to that the construction of Wellmont’s Urgent Care facilities, it becomes obvious that as healthcare models change, the work of Jim Moore will only become more important.
Dr. David Moulton
His title is medical director for clinical integration at State of Franklin Healthcare Associates. His work is unending. As physician champion for quality improvement, Dr. David Moulton has helped in efforts that began with qualifying as an NCQA Level 3 patient centered medical home and have led to quality control measures that have seen State of Franklin recognized by Cigna (along with Mountain Regional Family Medicine) as top in the nation for quality. Those efforts have also seen Blue Cross Blue Shield recognize State of Franklin for low emergency room utilization, and have seen United Healthcare honor Dr. Moulton as physician champion of the year. In addition, he serves on the transition team working with Mountain States and Wellmont on the Ballad Health Initiative, and is co-director of Qualuable Medical Professionals.
Dr. Todd Pillion
Todd Pillion is a pediatric dentist. And that fact has almost nothing to do with why he is being honored as a Healthcare Hero. Dr. Pillion is also a member of the Virginia House of Delegates, and he is laser focused on helping the Commonwealth stop the opioid crisis in its tracks. In the last session, Delegate Pillion sponsored half a dozen pieces of legislation to curb the opioid problem. All passed unanimously and all were signed by the governor. One piece of legislation formed a prescription guideline workgroup that has already begun its work. Another established a similar group to eliminate barriers to care for substance-exposed infants. Yet another requires electronic prescribing of opioids by 2020. In a legislative environment that sometimes seems to work at a snail’s pace, Dr. Todd Pillion is getting things done today.
Dr. Trey Robertson
Sometimes, heroism in healthcare is demonstrated as much in the care, as in the health. Yes, Dr. Trey Robertson has been a groundbreaking surgeon at Franklin Woods and Johnson City Medical Center, being the first in Tennessee to perform fecal microbiota transplants, helping to cure patients with recurrent infections. But his nominators pointed to his consistent caring approach to his profession as something that sets him aside form other providers. From a patient who had been told elsewhere her ostomy failed, and who felt her life was ruined, but whose need he properly assessed and successfully treated to instances outside the O.R., including coworkers whom he helped to understand family medical situations. For making sure care stays in healthcare, Trey Robertson is a 2017 Healthcare Hero.
Jamie Swift shows that heroism also comes in the form of doing your job to the level of true excellence. As director of Infection Prevention at Mountain States, Swift has earned national recognition, earning the Heroes in Infection Control Award – one of only six in the nation – from the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology. She also was accepted as and APIC fellow this year, one of only 169 in the world. She led the design and implementation of the region’s ebola preparedness plan. And recently she led a collaboration that brought together Mountain States, Wellmont, the ETSU Quillen College of Medicine, the Veterans Administration, and the health departments of Washington and Sullivan Counties to address the overuse and misuse of antibiotics.
During her 25-year tenure with Frontier Health, Cindy Tvardy has affected the lives of thousands of individuals. She has taken on more and more responsibility in helping the people of the region defeat substance abuse issues through the years, and now works with the court system to find the best way forward for individuals whose substance abuse has led them in conflict with the law. Said one nominator, “There might be a time when I, the hard-core, mean judge will be about to give someone his fifth or sixth chance when Cindy will say, ‘They’ve had their chances. They need to go to jail today for a few days (or weeks). They’ll be safer in jail at this time and they need a wake-up call.” The site director of the Nolachuckey Holston Mental Health Center, Cindy Tvardy.
Jibber Ward has been a member of the Board of Directors at Norton Community Hospital for 25 years, and has served as chairman, overseeing the master facility plan that resulted in the renovation and expansion of virtually every department and program at the hospital. At a time when rural hospitals are at risk, he has played an integral role in keeping Norton a thriving concern. He has brought a strong fiscal sense to the hospital’s operations, through his experience as president and CEO of Miner’s Exchange Bank since 1982. He has served on the hospital’s Finance Committee and on the Mountain States Health Alliance’s Investment Committee.
The Wellmont Cancer Institute
The Wellmont Cancer Institute was formed five years ago. In the last year alone, it has seen a 41 percent increase in lung patients seen per month and a 50-plus percent increase in diagnosed lung cancers each month. Almost 48 percent of patients were diagnosed with stage one or two cancer, and yet the institute has been efficient enough to provide test results to more than 60 percent of its patients within five days. In 2016, the institute was named to an elite group of organizations to participate in a special care delivery model for chemotherapy treatment focused on delivering even higher quality and improving outcomes while decreasing costs, the new oncology model of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. At the same time, literally going the extra mile for its patients, a group of cancer institute nurses took the initiative this year to host a run/walk fundraiser for the patient assistance fund, raising $64,000.
Dr. Earl Wilson
Because stroke is 34 percent more likely to strike a resident of our region than the U.S. overall, the prevention and treatment of that condition needs a local champion. Fortunately for us Earl Wilson is already here. Originally from Tazewell, Va., Dr. Wilson had planned to become a family practice physician, but ended up becoming a neurologist and eventually establishing the Appalachian Regional Stroke Center Network and later the Advanced Primary Stroke Center at Bristol Regional Medical Center. This year, the CareChex organization chose Bristol Regional among the top 10 percent in the country for medical excellence in stroke care. In addition to his work with strokes, Dr. Wilson has been actively involved in the treatment of multiple sclerosis, in epilepsy monitoring and in the creation of Bristol Regional’s sleep lab.