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Ballad Health launches new Niswonger Children’s Network, reinforces world-class healthcare and well-being for women and children

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Ballad Health launches new Niswonger Children’s Network, reinforces world-class healthcare and well-being for women and children

Draws record philanthropy and includes nearly $60 million of investment into services throughout Appalachian Highlands

Demonstrating the vision of an integrated and regionally coordinated system of healthcare, and underscoring the focus on hope and ambition for our youngest people as we climb out of the impact of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Ballad Health today unveiled a massive philanthropic investment into its comprehensive, regional system of care that, combined with Ballad Health’s investment, represents a nearly $60 million commitment to children, families and the future of the Appalachian Highlands.

The Ballad Health Niswonger Children’s Network, announced at a press conference on Thursday, March 4, is a regional system of healthcare and community services marking a new phase in high standards of care and well-being for children, regardless of where they live, across Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia.

“Ballad Health is a regional resource for our families and children,” said Ballad Health Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Alan Levine. “Our board of directors, physicians and team members strive to meet the needs of communities all over the region, and those needs are met inside and outside the walls of hospitals. Our goal is to meet these needs even before a baby is born, and to be the family’s resource all the way through childhood.”

“Families from throughout the region have always considered Niswonger Children’s Hospital ‘their hospital.’ With the new Niswonger Children’s Network, we are creating a pathway for access to the same high-quality care and resources across the entire Appalachian Highlands,” said Lisa Carter, chief executive officer of Niswonger Children’s Hospital and Ballad Health’s vice president of pediatric and women’s services. “If you see that a service is a part of this network, then you know there is a high-quality partnership in place designed to provide the best standard of care worthy of the Niswonger brand.

“We are leaning forward to meet families where they are and to try to help tackle some of the problems that threaten the future of families. We want the more than 1 million people in our region to know that the Ballad Health Niswonger Children’s Network is a blend of services and programs designed to help our entire region thrive.”

“As we seek to strengthen our region economically, there are two things we know families need – excellent schools and world-class healthcare,” Levine added. “This investment underscores that the Appalachian Highlands has both.”

Major philanthropic announcement

The creation of the Niswonger Children’s network is an investment of nearly $60 million throughout the region. Recognizing the importance of community investment in pediatric health, the health system plans to secure at least $17 million toward these initiatives through gifts to Ballad Health Foundation.

The foundation has already secured $9 million that will support the creation of the network, including a pace-setting gift of $7 million from the J.D. Nicewonder family. The Nicewonder family’s gift is the second-largest single investment into the region’s children’s hospital.

Adding to their recent investment creating the J.D. Nicewonder Family Pediatric Emergency Department in Bristol, Tennessee, the family announced today a $7 million commitment toward the Niswonger Children’s Network and the creation of two regional centers for pediatrics – a Center for Perinatal and Neonatal Care and a Center for Pediatric Specialties, both located at Niswonger Children’s Hospital. The Nicewonder family announced their commitment, the first major gift they’ve made in the health system outside of Bristol, because of their belief in the strength of the Ballad Health vision for regional economic and family health.

“We passionately believe that the Ballad Health Niswonger Children’s Network is a vehicle for positive development of our children at their most vulnerable times,” said Carolyn Nicewonder Beverly, a member of the Nicewonder family. “We have always invested in our hospital in Bristol, but now, Ballad Health has created something bigger, better and more focused on helping children throughout the region. We love this and want to be a part of it. We hope others will, too!”

The Nicewonder family encouraged others to consider becoming a part of the effort. “We were touched to learn that, in the past, during the Niswonger Children’s Hospital Radiothon, small children would bring the money they saved throughout the year to support other children who needed the help,” Nicewonder Beverly added. “Those dollars are being used to help children, and we know this is something everyone can get behind.”

In combination with this commitment by the Nicewonder family, the Ballad Health board of directors considered the thoughtful work of the Kingsport Visioning Committee, which was assembled by the Ballad Health board in late 2019 for the purpose of providing community input into the future of services for the region. The result of that effort helped lead to a suite of new ideas for the creation of an integrated network of services for women and children that are integrated throughout the region and include a major restructuring of Ballad Health’s assets in Kingsport.

Ballad Health’s investment of nearly $60 million includes a combination of Ballad Health capital resources, gifts from the Nicewonder family and others, as well as Ballad Health Foundation’s ongoing fundraising activities on behalf of Niswonger Children’s Hospital and Network.
Effort applauded by governors and healthcare leaders of Tennessee and Virginia

Today’s announcement drew widespread praise from the highest levels of Tennessee and Virginia government.

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee:

“As the Governor of Tennessee, I am committed to investing in our state’s rural communities and strengthening Tennessee families. Today, we celebrate and support the Niswonger Children’s Network, which will bring care to the youngest Tennesseans of this region,” said Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee. “The investments announced today by Ballad Health, paired with the generous contribution of $7 million from the J.D. Nicewonder family, amounts to tens of millions of dollars that will provide important support for mothers, children in need and high-risk newborns in our state. These gifts speak to the work of the Ballad Health team, the special nature of Niswonger Children’s Hospital and now, the Niswonger Children’s Network.”

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam:

“As a pediatric neurologist, I know how important it is for families to have access to the best care possible, no matter where they live,” said Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam. “Today’s announcement by Ballad Health will advance the health and well-being of children and families throughout the Appalachian Highlands.

“I could not be prouder that fellow Virginians, the J.D. Nicewonder family, stepped forward to pledge $7 million to support this great initiative, which spans across both state and county lines. The Niswonger Children’s Network is not only about improving hospital and specialty care, it’s about helping kids thrive. For example, with the support of Ballad Health, children and families in Southwest Virginia will benefit from Ballad Health’s investment today in Virginia Kids Belong. Ballad Health Foundation and Niswonger Children’s Network are transforming the health of our communities and creating brighter futures for generations to come.”

Tennessee Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey:

“I grew up in rural Tennessee and trained to become a doctor at East Tennessee State University, and my passion is serving as a pediatrician. My children were born in Northeast Tennessee, where they were served by the Perinatal Center at Johnson City Medical Center. So, today’s announcement of tens of millions of dollars of investment into the region’s services for women and babies – an investment that will benefit every family in the region – hits home for me, as a mother, as a physician and as someone who is charged to improve the health of all Tennesseans,” said Dr. Lisa Piercey, the Tennessee Commissioner of Health.

“On behalf of all Tennesseans, I want to thank the J.D. Nicewonder family from Virginia for their extremely generous gift to Ballad Health – a gift they gave because of their confidence in the vision of Ballad Health and the Niswonger Children’s Network. The measure of any region can be determined by two things: how they educate their children and how they care for their mothers and children. Today is evidence that Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia can measure up to any community in the nation.”

Virginia Secretary of Health and Human Resources Dr. Daniel Carey:

“As secretary, I know how important it is to focus on the health and well-being of our children,” said Daniel Carey, Virginia Secretary of Health and Human Resources. “For many years, I served as a physician in Lynchburg, and during my time there, I witnessed how important access to high-quality healthcare is to our rural communities.

“Families should not have to travel hundreds of miles just so their children can receive the care they need and deserve. Niswonger Children’s Hospital has long been an advocate for helping children who are ill – and their families – stay close to home, school and friends. Today’s announcement about the formation of the Ballad Health Niswonger Children’s Network will expand this promise, bringing more care closer to families who need them most.”

East Tennessee State University President Dr. Brian Noland:

“East Tennessee State University and ETSU Health consider our partnership with Ballad Health to be among the most important things we do in our service to the region,” said Dr. Brian Noland, President of ETSU. “Today’s combination of announcements and the forthcoming additional details being released over the next few days underscore the importance of our combined efforts to understand the causes of poor physical and mental health and address those causes so children can live out their dreams.

“This is truly a part of our academic mission. Healthy children learn better. They thrive more. And they have the best chance to become 18-year-olds who are college- or career-ready. Ultimately, that’s what this is about. It’s about having the resilience and the patience to identify the best pathway for our children and to create the conditions where they can thrive.”

Scott Niswonger:

“How we support our mothers and children is a strong indicator of our region’s worth,” said Scott Niswonger, whose initial $10 million contribution created Niswonger Children’s Hospital.

“I deeply appreciate the Nicewonder family and all those who have contributed to ensuring children can realize a successful and productive future. Today’s announcement raises awareness that the well-being of children doesn’t start when they get sick. It requires a sustained and comprehensive effort. I believe this project signals to everyone that the Appalachian Highlands has its priorities in order.”

New initiatives for the region

Today’s announcement underscores many services provided by the Niswonger Children’s Network, including but not limited to:

  • The new Regional Center for Perinatal and Neonatal Care and the Regional Center for Pediatric Specialties at Niswonger Children’s Hospital – including a two-story expansion of Niswonger Children’s Hospital and the newest, most modern neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) in Virginia or Tennessee to serve the region
  • An enhanced partnership between Ballad Health and ETSU Health. Powered by ETSU Health, Niswonger Children’s Hospital recently attracted two new high-quality pediatric surgeons, bringing the complement of trauma-capable surgeons to three for the region – the most in its history
  • A new Pediatric Emergency Department now under development at Indian Path Community Hospital in Kingsport
  • The conversion of Indian Path to become a Center for Women and Babies
  • A major investment of $8 million into advanced robotics surgery, with the newest and most advanced robotic system, the DaVinci Xi, being placed at Holston Valley Medical Center, Franklin Woods Community Hospital and Bristol Regional Medical Center – technology that will advance care provided by physicians who practice in women’s specialties.
  • The conversion of the former Takoma Regional Hospital in Greeneville to serve the needs of women and children through the Strong Futures Program announced recently, and which drew a $7 million investment by the State of Tennessee in addition to Ballad Health’s investment
  • The expansion of the Children’s Resource Center at Niswonger Children’s Hospital to Johnston Memorial Hospital in Abingdon, Virginia
  • An expansion of the Niswonger Children’s Network school-based virtual urgent care and behavioral health into additional school locations in Virginia, which received support earlier this year through grant funding and private gifts to Ballad Health Foundation
  • The Ballad Health Strong Brain Institute and Center for Trauma Informed Care at East Tennessee State University, inclusive of a regional child abuse prevention program
  • The creation of, and continued collaboration with, STRONG Accountable Care Community (ACC) partners – bringing a regional voice to the issues affecting women and children
  • Wellness playgrounds
  • A groundbreaking new program called Strong Starts. This program will be region-wide and represents a wholly unique approach to maternity care, early childhood development and family support that has never been done anywhere else in the country
  • An investment into Virginia Kids Belong, creating a relationship between the Niswonger Children’s Network and a proven program to assist the development and sustainability of foster families in Southwest Virginia
  • Ballad Health’s ongoing support for the Kingsport Miracle Field, fulfilling a commitment of $250,000 to invest in access to activity and programs for children who deserve the opportunity to play and develop.

The Niswonger Children’s Network story – being shared live

Given the multi-faceted, wide-reaching regional approach of the Niswonger Children’s Network, Ballad Health officials did not feel the story could be adequately told in a single press conference. To that end, the health system is sharing stories and key program updates from throughout the Appalachian Highlands all day on Thursday, March 4, and Friday, March 5.

Announcements will be broadcast live on Ballad Health’s social media channels, as well as with local media. The updates will also be made against the backdrop of the annual Niswonger Children’s Hospital Radiothon, which showcases stories of children’s hospital patients and their families, as well as the team members, physicians and Ballad Health Foundation supporters who work to fulfill its mission.

The Niswonger Children’s Hospital Radiothon will be broadcast live on four of Holston Valley Broadcasting Corporation’s radio stations (98.5 WTFM, 95.9 The Hog WRZK, Classic Hits 102.7 WVEK, and ESPN Tri-Cities) from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. each day. News Channel 11 anchor Josh Smith will also broadcast live from the children’s hospital lobby, and the station will speak with radiothon teams from across the Appalachian Highlands. Interested donors can call 855-611-KIDS (5437) to make their pledges, beginning on March 4. Donations can also be accepted at any time by visiting Niswonger Children’s Hospital Radiothon or texting KITE to 243725.

“Almost three years exactly from Day One of Ballad Health, we’re fulfilling the promise we made to our region – that we can work hard, work together and make a brighter future for this region,” Levine said. “The announcements today are significant, and very exciting, but in time, they’ll pale against the long-reaching effects and generational change they’ve generated.”

Learn more about the Ballad Health Niswonger Children’s Network.

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