Healthcare Heroes 2016

Back row: Karen Ervin, Gina Osborne, Jordan Masters Front row: Paula Masters, Dr. Kate Beatty, Kris Bowers, Janet Stork

Back row: Karen Ervin, Gina Osborne, Jordan Masters
Front row: Paula Masters, Dr. Kate Beatty, Kris Bowers, Janet Stork

For the last 23 years, The Business Journal of Tri-Cities, TN/VA has called the attention of the business community to the individuals and organizations that have helped make the provision of health care the largest single industry in the region.

It can easily be argued that health care is also the most important industry in the region. After all, without quality health care, no other industry can survive. Without healthy employees and customers, no business can succeed.

Recipient Ron Renfro enjoys lunch with his family.

Recipient Ron Renfro enjoys lunch with his family.

What defines Healthcare Heroes? They have earned the respect and admiration of their colleagues, the individuals for whom they care, and the communities in which they work. Nominations for the program come from those populations.

The field of nominations this year was the largest it has ever been, and each nominee was, in some way, already a hero. Health care is a field that lends itself to selfless actions and dedication beyond most conventional societal norms. It is our privilege at The Business Journal to recognize these honorees, as we did at a luncheon at the Carnegie Hotel July 15, and to present the honorees to you.

The Business Journal wishes to recognize the dedication and commitment of Frontier Health, the primary sponsor of Healthcare Heroes, and of co-sponsor Wellmont Health System. Without the participation of these companies, this program would not be possible.






DSC_6518The Community Service Award
Dr. Randy Wykoff
The Community Service Award is presented to an individual or organization for excellence in the area of public health. This year’s honoree is Dr. Randy Wykoff, dean of the East Tennessee State University College of Public Health.

There may be no individual more focused on improving population health in Appalachia than Randy Wykoff. Under his leadership, ETSU has partnered with local health systems and other agencies to improve services to those most in need. His important concept of the “Three-Legged Stool: Economic Development, Health, and Education” has been featured across disciplines and in industry. Thanks to Dr. Wykoff, the region’s medical, education and business communities have a better understanding of what we’re facing, and of how we can succeed, as we work to improve population health in Appalachia.


DSC_6532Distinguished Service Award
Debbie Britt
The Distinguished Service Award is presented to an individual who has shown leadership and excellent service over what we refer to as a sustained period of time. This year’s honoree is Debbie Britt, an RN/LPN at Sycamore Shoals Hospital.

Nurses are the front line of health care. And Britt has excelled on the front lines for 36 years now. Her co-workers speak of her work ethic, energy and bright personality. Britt is chair of the Team Member Advisory Group, which has organized a Thanksgiving fundraiser, benefitting 89 families in the last two years.

Perhaps one incident best shows why her colleagues nominated Britt for this award. A co-worker’s husband had a heart attack and brain injury, and Britt took it upon herself to help in any way possible. She looked in on the family. She brought food. But then she took it a step further. She collected money for the family when they were at a high-level specialty hospital in Atlanta. Britt didn’t just mail it to them but made the trip to Atlanta to hand-deliver it.



DSC_6539The Innovation Award
Dr. Mike Stoots
The Innovation Award rewards innovative thinking in the region’s healthcare community. The 2016 honoree is Dr. Mike Stoots, one of the longest-serving faculty members in the ETSU College of Public Health. He is highly innovative in developing new ways of teaching, which can be seen in his development of the “Essential Skills, Strategies and Expertise Necessary To Improve and Advance Low-resource Settings,” or ESSENTIALS, course at ETSU.

The ESSENTIALS course is part of Project EARTH, designed to train students in low-resource situations such as disasters, refugee situations or isolated regions how to use whatever resources are available to improve health. Late last year, Dr. Stoots hosted the Holston Valley Medical Center leadership team for an all-day “Refugee Experience” at the Valleybrook campus. HVMC President Tim Attebery praised it as an excellent innovative experience.



DSC_6544The Meritorious Service Award
Sheila Talley
The Meritorious Service Award goes to an individual who has shown excellence in administration or leadership. This year’s honoree is Sheila Talley, site director at Frontier Health. 

Talley supervises and manages the overall function of Watauga adult outpatient services, one of Frontier Health’s largest outpatient sites, serving about 8,300 individuals per year.

Under her watch, Watauga became the first Frontier Health facility to have its own full-service pharmacy on site. Watauga employees have praised Talley for going the extra mile to help them make lives better, but Talley has also earned the respect and appreciation of the larger community for her efforts beyond the facility. She has worked for the last two years with the Qualuable accountable care organization in an effort to reduce hospital readmissions. She has also been a key Tri-Cities player in the US Department of Justice’s “Smart on Crime Initiative.”


DSC_6553The Support Service Award
Ravan Krickbaum
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. This year’s honoree is Ravan Krickbaum, who has been both chair of the Hawkins County Memorial Hospital board and a longtime volunteer at the hospital. One nominator said, “if you live in Hawkins County, your life has been touched by Ravan Krickbaum.”

Krickbaum has also served on the Wellmont Health System board and on its quality and audit committees. That focus on quality has paid off, with Hawkins County Memorial – a 50-bed facility – receiving national recognition for overall hospital care, quality in key measures, surgical care and room cleanliness. Krickbaum also spearheaded construction of the hospital’s chapel.

But it’s not just at the boardroom level where Krickbaum’s desire to go the extra mile for her community shows through. Krickbaum recently developed a patient-family council to examine ways to make the hospital more “user-friendly” for patients and their families. For more than 20 years of helping improve the provision of health care in Hawkins County, the Support Service Award goes to Ravan Krickbaum.




DSC_6564Sandra Brown
Sandra Brown is executive director of Asbury Place’s Kingsport campus. Brown says she has known her own career path since she was a little girl. She still remembers being a Girl Scout Brownie, visiting nursing home residents. That memory has guided her steps since.

Brown has worked her way up from part-time certified nursing assistant over the last 21 years, and today manages 180 employees and implements a $3.4 million budget. Said one nominator, “She is able to do what is best for people because she has been in the trenches on a daily basis and now takes this experience to the administrative level without forgetting her roots.”


DSC_6576Bernie Buckles
Bernie Buckles learned about Wellmont Hospice House when his father and father-in-law both spent their final days there. Soon after his retirement, Buckles began volunteering at the facility.

Three days a week he is in the facility, cooking breakfast at 5 a.m. for about 20 people, then making rounds providing comfort and reassurance to the residents.

He plays multiple instruments and often fills the halls with song. And the relationships he forges with the families go outside the walls of Hospice House.

Buckles often attends funerals and memorial services for those he has helped. He gives an example of grace that inspires those who work with him.


DSC_6578Crossroads Medical Mission
Crossroads Medical Mission provides free medical care to those in the region who can afford it least. Of the 1,100 unique patients cared for by Crossroads last year, 97 percent were under the 150 percent poverty level.

The mission provided $1,269,000 of services with an out-of-pocket expense of $336,000, all at no charge to the patients. With only one full-time employee and six part-timers, the mission provided 160 scheduled clinics and took part in two RAM events.

More than 100 volunteers gave more than 4,000 hours of their time to make the mission work. Care has been given at 10 remote locations and from a mobile medical center. And all this happened with zero dollars of federal funding, as the mission is supported by the members of the communities it serves.


DSC_6596Healing Hands Health Center
Healing Hands Health Center has, in the last year, moved from its original quarters in Bristol to a 9,600-square-foot facility in Midway Medical Park to allow it to see more patients.

Healing Hands provides charitable health care to residents of the region who work, are uninsured and underserved, and cannot afford to pay for these services. The clinic has more than 750 active patients.

In the last 18 years, 48,000 volunteer hours have been logged at a value of almost $1.1 million. Prescriptions have been provided for free or for a nominal processing fee at a value of more than $22 million. Each patient is asked to pay $25 to see the doctor and a $5 processing fee for each medication, but no one is turned away for inability to pay.


DSC_6603Tina Johnson
In an industry measured by outcome metrics that are always changing through healthcare reform, Tina Johnson still measures success in the same terms she always has: by lives changed from terror and abuse to freedom and hope.

Johnson helps victims of domestic violence get free and build new lives. It’s something she’s done for more than 13,000 people at SAFE House since 1999. Sometimes success comes for Johnson when she recruits a new volunteer. Sometimes it happens when she secures new funding. She has had great success at both. But the greatest successes are when someone breaks free of an abusive environment and begins living a better life.


DSC_6612Ginny Kidwell
Ginny Kidwell is executive director of the Tennessee Institute of Public Health. As such, she has built a coalition of check-writers to support mini-grants that bring together community leaders from health care, economic development, education and business from across the state.

Recently, she was successful in enlarging a grant from Blue Cross Blue Shield to support 20 community-based health initiatives in rural counties of East Tennessee. Those initiatives address substance abuse, cancer, diabetes, cultural factors, lack of education and economic issues.

Kidwell and the TNIPH are where the rubber meets the road in driving rural healthcare improvements, playing a major role in fostering measurable improvements through data-driven planning, health education, public awareness, and research and advocacy for effective health-related policy.


DSC_6616Dr. Joseph Ley
Dr. Joseph Ley’s curriculum vitae says he is a pediatrician with Holston Medical Group. But his involvement in bettering the quality of life and health outside his office paints a much broader picture.

Some readers may know him as president of the Downtown Kingsport chapter of the Rotary Club. If you do, then you already know of his involvement in programs like the Kresge Krew golf tournament, which raises money for autism.

But even then you may not be aware of his medical mission work in Belize. A previous Healthcare Hero, Dr. Joe Smiddy, invited Ley to visit the clinic at Roaring Creek in 2009. It’s become a regular trip, and last year, Ley invited two HMG nurses to go along. In one week, they treated 500 children.


DSC_6625Hughes Melton
Hughes Melton, chief deputy commissioner for public health and preparedness for the Virginia Department of Health, is recognized this year mainly for his contributions to addressing two of the region’s major health-related challenges: widespread prescription addictions and the area’s shortage of doctors.

Until recently, Melton worked as Mountain States’ chief medical officer for its Southwest Virginia hospitals. He was instrumental in the creation and development of graduate medical education programs, including Johnston Memorial Hospital’s family medicine and internal medicine residency programs.

Both Melton and his wife, Dr. Sarah Melton, a pharmacy practice professor at ETSU’s Gatton College of Pharmacy, work extensively in Virginia and Tennessee to educate medical students and staff on pain management in order to battle the huge problem of prescription medication addition. Both Hughes and Sarah are now Healthcare Heroes, as she was honored in 2015.


DSC_6638Dr. Rob Pack
Dr. Rob Pack is director of ETSU’s newly established Center for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment.

Pack has spent years researching the issue of prescription drug abuse. In 2012, under his leadership, a group of ETSU scholars, regional health professionals, elected officials and other interested parties came together to discuss the dramatic increase in prescription drug abuse and drug overdose death rates in the Appalachian region. That group collaborated to generate a National Institute of Drug Abuse proposal that culminated in the five-year, $2.2 million grant.

Much of Pack’s work over the past four years culminated in the recent announcement of the approval from the Tennessee Board of Regents for ETSU to create a Center of Excellence for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment.


DSC_6685The Holston Valley Medical Center Pet Therapy Team
This year the Healthcare Heroes program has its first nonhuman honorees.

Stories abound about how patients benefit from the presence of the animals of the Holston Valley Pet Therapy Team. A stroke patient who had not spoken for days had a visit from a therapy dog. The dog’s owner was telling the patient the dog’s name and immediately the patient looked up and repeated the name back, much to the surprise of family and medical staff.

Of course not every story is of a great breakthrough. But every child who is less afraid of a needle and every anxious patient who takes comfort from the presence of one of the 43 dogs in the program is grateful.


Dr. Sue PrillDr. Sue Prill
Dr. Sue Prill wears many hats and she wears all of them well. She is medical director of the breast center at Bristol Regional. She is also a member of the board of directors for Wellmont Medical Associates. And she serves on the Bristol Regional Physician Clinical Council. 

Soon after she assumed her role as medical director, Prill earned her physician executive MBA degree. When asked why, she said it was important to have a complete understanding of what it takes to run a hospital. Yet even as she has grown her understanding of administration, she has remained, as one nominator said, “someone who has literally dedicated her life to her patients and the field of oncology.”


DSC_6651Ron Renfro
Ron Renfro is a hero because of how he inspires people to stay active, fit and healthy – even as he battles Stage 4 colon cancer. Renfro has worked as a personal trainer at The Wellness Center for 24 years, so he has personally helped hundreds of people improve their own health.

Over the last two years he has also fought colon cancer, involving multiple surgeries and rounds of chemotherapy, yet he continues to come in to The Wellness Center to help train others and do his own workouts. Despite all he’s been through, Renfro stays positive. There are hardly any days he’s negative. He’s stubborn as a mule and he doesn’t like to take days off from working at The Wellness Center, or from working out.

Just by being there he’s motivating everyone around him. Said one nominator, “If Ron can keep going, what’s my excuse?”


DSC_6665Dr. David Schilling
When Dr. David Schilling was first approached by another area physician about starting a free medical clinic in Church Hill, he never imagined becoming chief fundraiser and medical advocate. He also never envisioned learning to speak Spanish to better treat local Hispanic patients. Yet, that is exactly what he has done.

As medical director of the Church Hill Free Medical Clinic, Schilling has logged hundreds of hours overseeing the clinic, which receives nearly 500 yearly visits, for 12 years. And because of his tireless work, the clinic was only the 11th in the nation to receive free malpractice insurance. Making it easier for patients to get care and for providers to give it  – that’s the goal of the entire healthcare industry. In Church Hill, Tenn., David Schilling just accomplished it.


DSC_6669Rosalee Sites
Rosalee Sites has been a quiet, driving force in health care in the region for years. Without her work as director of Holston Valley’s emergency department in the late 1980s, the hospital might never have become a Level One Trauma Center.

Sites established the Trauma Nurse Tough Talk program to encourage teens to drive safely. She assigned a nurse to serve as a liaison between the emergency department and the EMS agencies. She helped found the Friends in Need Health Center in Kingsport to provide medical and dental care for the working poor. And she chaired the committee that founded the Children’s Advocacy Center in Blountville.

Today Sites serves as director of parish nursing for Wellmont, a program she founded back in 1997.


DSC_6677Dr. Jane Toothman
Dr. Jane Toothman was the first female doctor to open a practice in Wise County, Va., paving the way for a generation of women in what had been a male-dominated field in a region slow to accept change.

Regardless of her gender, Toothman was appreciated for bringing primary care to community members who wouldn’t otherwise have it – even those who couldn’t pay. She went on to open – and eventually retire from a private practice in Bristol. She helped found the Wesley Medical Clinic in Abingdon, Va., where she now serves as medical director on a volunteer basis. Toothman and her dogs, Lady and Maurice, volunteer in the Johnston Memorial Hospital Pet Therapy program.


DSC_6691Patti Vanhook
Patti Vanhook, associate dean for Practice and Community Partnerships at ETSU, operates 14 nurse-led health clinics located from Mountain City to Sneedville. Together, these clinics provide more than 30,000 primary care and outreach visits to underserved clients.

Since 2007 Vanhook has been responsible for attaining and administering more than $22 million in federal and state support for these clinics. A board-certified family nurse practitioner, she’s also a fellow in the American Academy of Nursing.

Having started her career by opening a clinic in her hometown of Big Stone Gap, Vanhook was later instrumental in building a stroke management program at Mountain States, and played a key role in getting Nurse Magnet status for Johnson City Medical Center, the first hospital to gain that status in Tennessee.


DSC_6697Dr. Amit Vashist
Dr. Amit Vashist, Mountain States regional medical director for the hospitalist division, is dramatically improving the provision of health care in Southwest Virginia. His key areas of success – ‘Sepsis Care’ and ‘Order Sets’ – admittedly aren’t sexy, headline-making topics. But his results are.

Under the guidance of Dr. Vashist’s team’s work on sepsis care, an estimated 84 lives have been saved and 448 hospital days have been avoided at Johnston Memorial Hospital. Likewise – without taking the time to explain the details of order sets – it’s impressive to note that with Dr. Vashist’s leadership, JMH hospitalists attempted to go from 50 percent order set compliance to 90 percent compliance in 90 days. What’s more impressive is that they achieved 95 percent compliance inside 60 days.


DSC_6701Wendy Wampler
Wendy Wampler is Frontier Health’s services coordinator for Psychosocial Rehabilitation and Intellectual Disabilities day programs in Southwest Virginia. She’s also one of the most prominent, best-respected voices for psychiatric rehabilitation in the Commonwealth.

Over the course of a 24-year career, Wampler has risen from case manager to a point where she was elected to serve as president of the Virginia Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association from 2012-2014, and then was elected to serve as the Virginia state chapter representative to the national Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association. For the last eight years, Wampler has been chair of the Southwest Virginia Clubhouse Director’s Association, dedicated to providing education and information in the field to psychiatric rehabilitation program directors, staff and program members.


DSC_6704Jennifer Whitehead
Jennifer Whitehead is not a provider who is preoccupied with her clients’ ability to pay. Her clients don’t have homes. Most don’t have jobs. Seventy percent of them suffer from some form of mental illness. At least half of them have a criminal history. They define the term “underserved.”

Whitehead is coordinator of the Johnson City Downtown Day Center, a facility operated by ETSU’s College of Nursing. Between Whitehead and two other staff, the facility saw 1,100 different people in 2014 and has a group of about 230 “regulars.” Through a $1 million grant, the center will soon expand to be able to increase its patient resources by 400 percent. That’s good, because demand is expected to rise 150 percent when the doors open.



DSC_6709Janet Wolfe
Janet Wolfe’s passion is taking care of teens and children in crisis, and that’s exactly what she’s been doing for the last 23 years. Wolfe’s key role is to provide assessment, medication counseling and support for youth at Nolachuckey Holston-Area Mental Health in Greeneville, Holston Children and Youth in Kingsport and Watauga Behavioral Health Services in Johnson City. But she views her role with Frontier Health as a ministry, not a job.

Wolfe does not just act as a nurse, but as a care coordinator. She makes sure all members of the interdisciplinary team – as well as insurance companies, physicians or nurse practitioners, group home staff, foster parents, teachers, and any other parties who may be involved – are up to date and on the same page.

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