All photos by Earl Neikirk/Neikirk Image except where noted.
Distinguished Service Award
Lisa Wilson, Ballad Health
When Lisa Wilson started working for Mountain States Health Alliance 37 years ago, it is doubtful she could have envisioned a single electronic health record system capable of making digital patient records available to providers in over 300 hospitals and care sites across Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia. Not only is that a reality today at Ballad Health, it is a reality that Lisa helped create.
As IT Manager at Ballad, Lisa has worked on a plethora of transformative IT programs over the years. For example, she oversaw the first electronic health record at Mountain States, helped introduce computerized physician order entry and led the “Appropriate Use” implementation, which focused on reducing the amount of radiation patients are exposed to across their lifetimes. Wilson was also involved when Ballad successfully launched the Epic platform during the height of the pandemic, completing the herculean task of adopting a single electronic health record system encompassing the merged health system.
Lisa has built a sterling reputation in the workplace and is known for her precise, dependable work. She is an advocate for patients and clinical customers and tenaciously works to find ways to improve the patient experience at Ballad. Lisa isn’t afraid to ask the tough questions when tackling problems, and she always goes the extra mile to make sure each project is successful, no matter how small. Additionally, she works to promote a calm, steady, productive work environment, even in the face of personal hardship.
Lisa kept right on providing excellent service and producing incredible work even while fighting cancer, which required her to undergo chemotherapy and radiation. She also endured the untimely loss of her sister and is now raising her nephew. Additionally, Lisa and her husband have fostered numerous children over the years, loving and caring for them while they find new homes. She has fully adopted five of the children she’s fostered, showing a loving, nurturing soul that knows no bounds.
Lisa sees technology as an opportunity to improve the lives of others, and to that end, she has made an indelible impact on countless people in our region.
Home Visit Team, State of Franklin Healthcare Associates
For many patients, getting to their doctor’s office for an appointment can be difficult if not impossible. What’s more, the patients most likely to have trouble making it to appointments are often the ones who need medical care the most, senior patients with mobility issues, lack of caregiver support, frailty or altered mental states such as Alzheimer’s or dementia.
As a result, the SoFHA Home Visit Team was established in 2016 to go to the patients who can’t get to their doctors. This group of nurse practitioners and physician assistants provide appointments inside patients’ homes or at assisted living facilities, coordinating with the patient’s primary care provider, social workers and clinical pharmacists to ensure continuity of care. Patient care delivered by the home visit team in conjunction with social workers has gone beyond simply addressing disease states and medical care; social workers have been able to identify areas where community assistance or resources are needed, such as in-home care options, food, medication cost assistance or housing.
The idea of a creating a home visit team was innovative in and of itself, but the members of the team innovate on a daily basis by crafting solutions for the unique situations they encounter. Just recently, a social worker discussed in-home care options with a patient’s spouse who was having difficulty providing care to their loved one. Additionally, the social worker was able to discuss medication assistance programs that could lower the cost of certain medications and helped fill out, submit and track the application, which led to the patient receiving assistance.
Another team member encountered a patient with progressive dementia and paranoia who refused to leave home to be seen in the office. The team member took the time to build trust with the patient and was eventually able to provide care in the patient’s home along with a social worker and clinical pharmacists, who identified medication options to treat the patient’s anxiety. Recently, the patient was able to leave home for an appointment that had been adamantly refused previously.
The home visit team has proven its ability to meet patients where they are and to improve their lives in innovative ways.
Meritorious Service Award
Dr. Viorel Manole, Holston Medical Group
In our region, we pride ourselves in providing quality rural healthcare, but Dr. Viorel Manole has stories that will make physicians in the most remote towns in Appalachia feel like their practices are located in the heart of a bustling metropolis.
When Dr. Manole was a young boy in his native Romania, his mother was a nurse, which made him want to become a doctor. By the time he was in middle school, Dr. Manole went by the hospital after school waiting for his mother’s shift to end and quickly became enamored with the discipline it took for the medical professionals to provide care to patients. He took his admissions exam in 1978 and was admitted to the Bucharest Medical School, where he trained in family medicine. Upon completing his residency in 1987, Dr. Manole was all set to begin practicing in Romania, which was in the midst of great upheaval due to a revolution.
Dr. Manole now sees his time practicing family medicine in Romania as the formative years of his professional career. He practiced in the most rural areas of his home country, traveling to see his patients on bicycle or even by horse and buggy. The young physician was often alone, miles away from the nearest hospital, when he delivered babies and provided prenatal care. By 1989, Romania’s government was overthrown as the Soviet Union splintered. Wanting a better life for his wife and two children, Dr. Manole made the bold decision to move to the United States in order to give his family a better future.
Dr. Manole came to Florida in 1991, and his family followed in the summer of 1993. Five more years of residency followed in New Jersey, which paved the way for Dr. Manole to practice internal medicine in the United States. He joined Holston Medical Group in 2003 and has remained there ever since. With 44 years of medical experience under his belt, Dr. Manole now lives in Kingsport with his wife. His children are successful adults who have thrived thanks in part to the opportunities provided by their move to the United States.
After all these years, Dr. Manole is still dedicated to going the extra mile for his patients – even if it is no longer by horse and buggy.
Support Service Award
Dental Hygiene Program, East Tennessee State University
For the past 20 years, students enrolled in ETSU’s Dental Hygiene program have been protecting the smiles on the faces of people across the region.
During their final year of study, students in the program have volunteered their services at Healing Hands, an organization in Bristol committed to providing healthcare to low-income, uninsured and underinsured residents of Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia. The students have collectively provided around 8,000 hygiene visits, which include x-rays, cleanings, exams and oral health education. Each visit comes with a free dental kit that can be used at home. Students and their supervisor are onsite at Healing Hands every Monday, Wednesday and Friday when school is in session.
Dental care is one of the largest unmet healthcare needs in our country today, and 85 percent of those who seek help at Healing Hands request dental services. Because of the small staff at Healing Hands, partnerships like the one with ETSU’s Dental Hygiene Program help serve the large volume of patients seeking dental treatment. Poor oral health has been linked to such chronic diseases as diabetes and heart disease, so providing dental care is crucial to the overall health of the patients.
Additionally, poor oral health has repercussions that affect all aspects of society. According to the CDC, an average of 34 million school hours and $45 billion in productivity are lost each year as a result of dental emergencies requiring unplanned care. Low-income adults are also left to seek care at emergency departments, which is an unsustainable and costly option that does not improve oral health as patients are often given antibiotics and pain medication without a definitive treatment plan.
With that in mind, the work done by ETSU Dental Hygiene students over the past two decades has enriched our region and the people who live here in multiple ways.
Community Service Award
Melissa Birdwell, Frontier Health
As we begin to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, attention is turning to a mental health crisis that has intensified dramatically in recent years. The American Psychological Association sounded the alarm in January of this year, pointing out that mental illness and the demand for psychological services are at all-time highs – especially among children.
With that in mind, we are so fortunate to have a patient, compassionate and relentless healthcare professional like Melissa Birdwell committed to meeting the mental health needs of the children in our region. Melissa has been with Frontier Health for 21 years and now serves as the division director of one of the busiest children and youth departments in Northeast Tennessee. In this role, she oversees outpatient therapy, school-based programs and clinical supervision for therapists throughout our eight-county area.
Melissa has helped grow and expand Frontier Health’s student intern program, which provides internship opportunities for master’s and doctoral level placements at Frontier Health. Additionally, she has helped expand telehealth services to the more rural areas of Northeast Tennessee, providing quicker access to care for those who may lack resources.
Melissa has also helped expand mental health services to Primary Care Physicians by embedding staff, including therapists and case managers, in their practices to better coordinate mental health services, giving doctors the ability to manage an individual’s health in a more holistic manner. She has also helped expand school-based services throughout our region, encompassing 14 school systems where therapy and case management services are provided to youth and school staff.
Although Melissa has a master’s degree, she recalls the wise words of one of her instructors in graduate school who said, “Just because you have a master’s degree does not mean you have mastered anything.” With that in mind, Melissa strives to remain humble and maintain a hunger to learn and grow every day, and we are undoubtedly the beneficiaries of her diligent work.
Thank you to our partners