By Dave Ongie
From a school library in Gate City, Virginia, to the infield of Bristol Motor Speedway to a letter of support for Ballad Health penned by chambers of commerce from around the region, one phrase kept popping up last week: Accountable Care Community.
The phrase itself is not new, but according to Ballad Health CEO Allan Levine, the emphasis now being placed on the phrase in our region is packed with purpose.
“The Accountable Care Community, it’s one you should start talking to us about,” Levine said during a stop at Shoemaker Elementary School in Gate City, Virginia, last Wednesday to announce a partnership between Ballad and seven local United Way chapters to boost literacy amongst elementary-aged students. “It’s a huge collective impact approach. Imagine the power of 150 not-for-profit organizations coming together and saying we’re going to solve three things – strong starts for children, childhood obesity and addiction. We want to focus on those things, and that’s very powerful.”
In the same vein, the push for regionalism in our area is not new, but Ballad Health is in a unique position to put the idea of regionalism into action given the healthcare provider’s geographical footprint in the aftermath of a long-anticipated merger between Mountain States Health Alliance and Wellmont.
Just over a year after the merger was officially completed, Levine was on the road last week forging visible partnerships he hopes will strengthen ties between organizations in our region and redefine Ballad as more than just a medical provider.
The first stop was in Gate City, where Ballad announced the partnership with the United Way in a pilot initiative designed to increase grade-level reading and improve reading proficiency of children in our area. Ballad has been operating a reading program called B.E.A.R. Buddies, which connects volunteer mentors and elementary students that are at least six months behind on their grade level for reading. Likewise, the United Way of Washington County TN launched a reading program called Vello this past fall with a focus on helping local students meet the critical third-grade reading benchmark.
But Levine sees this size and scope of this new partnership is evidence of the Accountable Care Community in action. All told, $300,000 is being invested in this new reading initiative – $100,000 from the United Way, $100,000 from the Ballad Health Foundation and $100,000 from contributions made by Ballad employees during a recent campaign.
“One of the greatest things about Ballad’s creation is it sort of created an environment where we can facilitate this type of partnership, which will make a difference,” Levine said. “Ballad is more than just a medical company. We’re a health improvement organization, and the data shows that if a child can read at grade level by third grade, they’re more likely to become seniors in high school and graduate, and all of their health status improves because of that.”
On Thursday, a letter of support for Ballad Health signed jointly by chambers of commerce and economic partnerships from around the region was released, and the importance of establishing an Accountable Care Community was reiterated.
“Another major initiative the chambers are participating in is the Accountable Care Community, where key leaders from business, health care, government and the region’s United Ways in the two states met to begin addressing all of the health population metrics,” the letter read. “We are pleased to say that the Accountable Care Community has entered the next stages of implementation, with the formation of a twenty-person leadership committee and over 150 organizations from NE TN/SW VA working to focus on a few impactful metrics we believe will align with the states goals and will fundamentally improve health in the region.”
About the time the letter was released, one of the men who signed it was standing in the infield of Bristol Motor Speedway introducing Levine to talk about a partnership between Ballad and Bristol Motor Speedway. Jerry Caldwell, the executive vice-president and general manager of BMS, was the chair of the Bristol Chamber of Commerce last year and has long championed strong regional partnerships in his role at the speedway.
As Caldwell announced that Ballad would be committing 85 medical professionals and 75 off-duty EMS officials to the track’s 10 on-site medical care centers during events at the track, he once again stressed the importance of putting regionalism in action.
“It takes our whole community, our entire region to welcome people from all over the world the way we do,” Caldwell said. “We applaud Ballad Health’s commitment to providing this generous contribution and for delivering outstanding care to the region through their planned regional trauma and emergency care system.”