Julie Bennett elected Lead Independent Director of Ballad Health
Kingsport native and regional leader takes leadership role, as long-serving lead director David Lester steps down
Kingsport native and community leader Julie Bennett has been elected by the Board of Directors of Ballad Health to serve as its lead independent director and vice chair.
Bennett replaces David Lester, of Bristol, Virginia, who has served in this role since the creation of Ballad Health nearly five years ago.
“Our entire team is grateful for the nearly five years of dedicated service David has given Ballad Health as lead independent director and vice chair,” said Ballad Health Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Alan Levine.
The lead independent director is a critical leadership role on the board, providing counsel and guidance to the CEO and ensuring community voices are present and heard as the board contemplates important decisions. During Lester’s term as lead director, Ballad Health saw upgrades in its bond ratings, reaching the highest levels in Ballad Health, Wellmont Health System or Mountain States Health Alliance history, with credit reporting agencies citing Ballad Health’s governance as a strength, even as they recognize quality of care has been maintained as Ballad Health has reduced the overall cost of care. Additionally, the board played a pivotal role in ensuring management had the resources and flexibility necessary to respond to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
“This is a very complex and difficult time to be operating hospitals and health systems, given the combined effects of the pandemic, labor shortages and challenges in rural healthcare delivery,” Levine said. “Good governance is the key to ensuring health systems can survive these headwinds. David’s experience and counsel have been critical to our entire team, and we are very grateful he was willing to serve for as long as he has.”
Lester served two full terms as lead director, the maximum permitted under the Ballad Health bylaws.
Bennett’s term as lead independent director and vice chair officially began on July 1.
Bennett currently serves as Vice President and General Counsel of Bristol Motor Speedway, a role she has served in for more than 15 years. In this role, she oversees all legal matters impacting the Speedway and its programs, oversees all government and community relations and assists with virtually every aspect of planning and training for the Speedway.
Prior to her work with the Speedway, Bennett spent 15 years as a partner with Hunter, Smith & Davis, where she represented and advised companies throughout the United States on general corporate matters and employee relations. A national expert, Bennett is well respected as an attorney, receiving Martindale-Hubbell peer-reviewed high ratings, including the highest rating for serving with very high ethical standards. Bennett has also been the recipient of the Tennessee Bar Association’s President’s Distinguished Service Award.
In addition to her 30 years of extraordinary professional accomplishment, Bennett, a 1985 graduate of Sullivan North High School, has made community service a priority. Prior to being appointed to serve on the board of Ballad Health, she served on the board of directors of the legacy Wellmont Health System, where she served as the elected vice chair and member of the executive committee, audit committee and governance committee.
Bennett is a member of the First Broad Street United Methodist Church, where she contributes her time pro bono as general counsel to the church, in addition to her past service as chair of the church leadership council and board of trustees. She currently serves as a member of the Kingsport Economic Development Board and the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame board of directors, as well as chair of the Kingsport Chamber Foundation board of directors and the Tennessee Commission on Continuing Legal Education and Specialization. In addition to contributing her time to those groups, Bennett has served in dozens of other organizations in various capacities, many of which have led to recognition; most recently, as a graduating member of Leadership Tennessee.
“Serving as lead independent director of Ballad Health during this pivotal time in the history of our region’s healthcare system has been an honor, particularly given the incredible talent serving alongside me on the board,” Lester said. “Any one of our board members would be highly qualified to serve as lead independent director, but I’m especially grateful Julie was willing to serve when asked. She enjoyed the unanimous support of the board, and we all believe she will be a fantastic representative of the independent community members who serve on the board.”
“As someone whose parents routinely use our region’s healthcare system, and having raised my own children here, the quality and accessibility of our healthcare system is very important to me,” Bennett said. “We are blessed to have a caring team of professionals throughout Ballad Health, all of whom are deeply committed to caring for our patients as though they are our own family; and in many cases, they are family. I truly am inspired by the work our team does, and I’m very grateful for the steady and thoughtful leadership of each member of the board of directors. It is not only my opinion that our governance has been effective – it’s the opinion of national rating agencies, each of whom has independently observed the professional and judicious governance of Ballad Health.”
As Bennett assumes her responsibility as lead independent director for her two-year term, other officers were also selected for the same term. David Lester has been elected to serve as treasurer, replacing Gary Peacock, who has served as treasurer since the inception of Ballad Health. Peacock’s term on the board of directors expires in June 2023. Keith Wilson was elected to serve as secretary, replacing Dr. Doug Springer, whose term on the board expires in June 2023. Scott Niswonger will continue serving as the at-large member of the executive committee.
“Many people do not realize the selfless work these board members do,” Levine said. “They are not paid, and they spend an enormous amount of their time providing counsel, fiduciary oversight and strategic decision-making. We are extremely grateful.”
The board of directors is currently comprised of:
- Alan Levine, chairman and chief executive officer
- Julie Bennett, lead independent director and vice chair
- David Lester, treasurer and chair of the finance committee
- Keith Wilson, secretary
- Scott Niswonger, at-large member of the executive committee
- David Golden, chair of Audit and Compliance committee
- Aldo Noseda, chair of innovation committee
- Dr. David May, chair of quality, service and safety committee
- Gary Peacock, previous treasurer
- Dr. Doug Springer, chair of community benefit and population health committee
- Dr. Brian Noland, president of East Tennessee State University
Learn more about Ballad Health and its leadership.