Ballad Health Academy takes shape


By A.J. Kaufman, Managing Editor

Earlier this year, Ballad Health joined several community colleges and local school districts to launch an initiative that will create a regional program dedicated to healthcare careers.

The school-within-a-school approach is called Ballad Health Academy and aims to address the unique nature of the Appalachian Highlands by providing accelerated education for a healthcare career. The new program will incorporate in-person and virtual training for students throughout Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia

The Academy is part of an effort to close the historic gap in healthcare manpower, while giving students an opportunity to gain direct work experience and access to attractive opportunities following graduation.

Dr. Jeff Moorhouse

Planning a fall 2025 opening, the program will enroll 100 students per year during its first four years of operations, before potentially expanding to thousands throughout the area.

Dr. Jeff Moorhouse, Ballad’s director of secondary education programs, including the Academy, spoke to the Business Journal in late February. He said his expectations are “to provide a model for educator/employer partnerships that allow students to apply their learning and see where the lessons of the textbook have real-life application.”

Moorhouse became involved because he believes the Academy is a good opportunity to connect students to high-need jobs with livable wages that can keep them serving our region.

“They can advance their learning, and Ballad Health will support them in advancing their learning,” he explained. “Connecting people to prosperous futures is what I’ve spent a career doing; now I get to do it from the employer side – looking through the glass on the other side of the window.”

The first-of-its-kind $250 million effort comes via Bloomberg Philanthropies and hopes to create new CTE high schools in 10 urban and rural communities across the U.S.

Ballad Health says that, alongside local school systems, they will co-develop a curriculum, which offers academic programming, specialized healthcare classes, work-based learning and the opportunity to earn industry-valued credentials and certifications, along with traditional high school diplomas, according to a press release.

Ballad’s leadership is on board.

“The health manpower labor shortage is an extreme crisis throughout the nation, and Ballad Health, our team members and our patients have experienced first-hand the difficulties resulting from the shortage,” Ballad Health Chairman and CEO Alan Levine noted in January, before stressing to the Business Journal in late February that since the nursing shortage won’t soon dissipate, Ballad is looking years down the road to create a pipeline of future employees.

While the initial scope of the Academy is focused on areas where the workforce needs are highest — nursing and frontline clinical workers — there are pathways for other areas of study, like healthcare business, finance and technology.

State executives also are enthusiastic about the possibilities.

“As Governor of Tennessee, one of my top priorities has been providing families with choices when it comes to their child’s education,” Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee said in a press release. “Ballad Health Academy will provide students with accelerated pathways to healthcare careers and help solve an industry-wide labor shortage. Tennessee is continuing to lead the nation as one of the best places to do business and raise a family, and I thank the local school systems, Ballad Health, our community colleges and TCATs for partnering to create something that will serve the entire region.”

His gubernatorial colleague to the north concurred.

“Increasing the nursing workforce in the Commonwealth has been a priority of mine, and partnerships like this between our hospitals, school systems, community colleges and technical training programs help us meaningfully build these career pathways to deliver better care to Virginians,” Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin explained in part. “I am proud that the initial programming for these accelerated pathways began in Southwest Virginia and that Ballad Health will expand their reach to students in every community in Virginia where Ballad Health operates a hospital.”

Ballad Health intends to begin the program with Bristol, Tenn. City Schools, City of Elizabethton Schools, Greeneville City Schools, Kingsport City Schools and Sullivan County Schools, as well as Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology in Elizabethton and Morristown, Northeast State Community College, Walters State Community College and ETSU.

“The rurality of Ballad Health Academy is also a unique factor with what we’re doing,” Moorhouse added. “We were the only rural recipient of the Bloomberg grant, and we hope to create a model for other rural and community-based systems in America; this is what it can look like to work across a multiple-district, multiple-site program to grow your own talent and create a pipeline and trajectory for brighter futures.”

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