Bloomberg Philanthropies, Ballad Health, local schools launch region-wide, healthcare-focused Ballad Health Academy High School to address national labor shortages and create economic opportunity for next generation

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn., Jan. 18, 2024 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Ballad Health, several community colleges and career technical education (CTE) centers and five local school districts have announced an unprecedented partnership that will launch a region-wide initiative in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia to create a regional program dedicated to accelerated pathways into healthcare careers. 

The innovative school-within-a-school approach, called Ballad Health Academy, addresses the unique rural nature of the Appalachian Highlands by providing access to accelerated education and training in a healthcare career, while maintaining the benefits of attending a child’s community school. The new program will incorporate in-person, virtual and in-hospital education and integrate healthcare career knowledge and job training with a high-quality, well-rounded high school experience for students throughout the Appalachian Highlands. Graduating students will have the opportunity to move directly into high-demand healthcare jobs with family-sustaining wages upon graduation from high school. 

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The program is planned to open in fall 2025 and could serve more than 400 students, expanding to potentially touch thousands of students throughout the Appalachian Highlands once scaled to every community where Ballad Health has a presence. 

This initiative is part of a first-of-its-kind $250 million effort led by Bloomberg Philanthropies that is connecting healthcare and education systems to create new CTE high schools in 10 urban and rural communities across the country. Ballad Health disclosed plans to begin the program with six schools across five local school systems – Greeneville City Schools, Sullivan County Schools, Kingsport City Schools, Bristol Tennessee City Schools and City of Elizabethton Schools – as well as academic partners Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology (TCATs) in Elizabethton and Morristown, Northeast State Community College, Walters State Community College and East Tennessee State University. The health system then plans to scale the initiative throughout Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia, opening the opportunity to students in any school or school system in the region as the initiative moves beyond its initial pilot phase.

Ballad Health’s efforts to launch accelerated pathways began in Wise County and the City of Norton, Virginia, where the health system led the development of a career exploration program for fifth- to eighth-graders. This program helps children advance in high school to enroll in Certified Nursing Assistant Courses through local CTE schools. The program also assists high school seniors in becoming employed by Ballad Health and furthering their education at Mountain Empire Community College or the University of Virginia’s College at Wise.

Additionally, Ballad Health is the clinical learning partner for the soon-to-be-opened lab school in Marion, Virginia, a regional alternative school created by Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin and housed at Emory & Henry College.

It is supported by an initial $15.3 million investment from Bloomberg Philanthropies. Ballad Health and the local school systems will co-develop a high school curriculum, which will offer robust academic programming, specialized healthcare classes, work-based learning and the opportunity to earn industry-valued credentials and certifications along with traditional high school learning and diplomas, with a goal of graduating high school with the credentials and certifications to qualify the students for immediate full-time work opportunities.

As Ballad Health is the largest employer in the Appalachian Highlands, this initiative will create virtual schools in partnership with each student’s own high school, offering students an opportunity to gain direct work experience and access to attractive jobs within the health system immediately following graduation. Beginning with nursing, students can graduate as an LPN and begin full-time work immediately post-graduation, while earning a scholarship toward a full RN credential. This model will be replicated in other areas of healthcare, including information technology, healthcare finance and other clinical opportunities. 

Elementary through high schools, TCATs and community colleges throughout the region currently offer varying programs designed to accelerate pathways. The creation of Ballad Health Academy will bring virtually guaranteed employment opportunities, a standardized curriculum and a regionally focused healthcare academy to bear as part of the effort to close the historic gap in healthcare manpower. This labor shortage is projected to worsen, absent efforts similar to the one created by Ballad Health and its school partners, with funding from the Bloomberg Philanthropies. 

“For too long, and despite important efforts, our education system has failed to prepare enough students to meet the growing demands for good jobs in high-growth industries,” said Michael R. Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies and Bloomberg LP and 108th mayor of New York City. “By combining classroom learning with hands-on experience, these specialized healthcare high schools will prepare students for careers with opportunities for growth and advancement. America needs more healthcare workers, and we need a stronger, larger middle-class – and this is a way to help accomplish both goals.”

“As Governor of Tennessee, one of my top priorities has been providing families with choices when it comes to their child’s education,” said Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee. “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.”

“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,” said Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin. “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 has been a leader of many initiatives to advance high-quality child care, sustain rural hospitals, and create pathways for young people to accelerate toward high-paying jobs in healthcare. I am grateful for Ballad Health’s and CEO Alan Levine’s leadership in this area, and my administration looks forward to supporting these efforts to continue to make Virginia the best place to live, work, and raise a family.”

“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,” said Ballad Health Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Alan Levine. “Our region has the capability to contribute to solving this problem, and Ballad Health Academy will become a national model for how local communities can help fill these important workforce needs.”
 
As an example of the Appalachian Highlands stepping forward, Levine pointed to the creation of the Tennessee Center for Nursing at East Tennessee State University, a center initially started by Ballad Health and ETSU, but later adopted by the Governor of Tennessee and the Tennessee Legislature as Tennessee’s statewide center for nursing advancement. ETSU president Dr. Brian Noland announced today that, due to the investment by Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Tennessee Center for Nursing will contribute resources to Ballad Health Academy to help develop and advance the nursing components of the academy. 
 
“The Tennessee Center for Nursing was developed to help create accelerated pathways, and to test new models for filling the critical need for nurses,” Dr. Noland said. “It was Ballad Health’s investment that created the Center, and we are pleased that the Center will now be positioned to expand Ballad Health Academy throughout the region.”

Through Ballad Health Academy, students with aptitudes for science and service professions will be identified at the middle and early-high school level, and they can be enrolled in the pathway in the ninth grade. While working toward an LPN degree in high school, they will remain in their local public school and take core classes, but overlay those studies with Tennessee College of Applied Technology and community college courses for dual credit. 

Counselors will work with students throughout high school to schedule and sequence courses and navigate dual enrollment, so students have support to explore and navigate their paths and handle logistical tasks needed to get them to success. The program also focuses on ensuring students have every opportunity to progress in roles, responsibilities and wages, and there is also a management track available to students who complete the program – and no ceiling of how far they can succeed. 

Bloomberg Philanthropies’ investment will support school start-up costs, including personnel needs, classroom and lab renovations and other work-based learning requirements. Ballad Health Academy will be specifically designed to provide traditional academic courses based on state graduation requirements, as well as specialized healthcare classes co-taught by Ballad Health team members using the co-designed curricula.

Other leaders from throughout the State of Tennessee and Commonwealth of Virginia commented on this major announcement:

Tennessee Sen. Jon Lundberg, Chair of the Tennessee Senate Education Committee: “As chair of the Tennessee Senate’s Education Committee, I take pride in the entrepreneurship of our school systems and organizations like Ballad Health that seek opportunities to solve the national healthcare labor shortage by thinking differently. Offering parents and students choices and accelerated pathways to good-paying jobs is precisely the innovation needed. I will do whatever is necessary to ensure our school systems and Ballad Health are successful with the new Ballad Health Academy.”

Tennessee Sen. Rusty Crowe, Chair of the Tennessee Senate Health Care Committee: “As chair of the Tennessee Senate Health Care Committee, I am keenly aware that workforce shortages have been extremely disruptive to hospitals and their patients all over America and Tennessee. I am excited to see this local effort add to the already important partnerships between the health system and our school systems to produce highly qualified graduates to fill these much-needed positions. The combination of hands-on experience with the integration of effort between Ballad Health and our school systems is a truly innovative approach.”

Tennessee State Rep. Mark White, Chair of the Tennessee House Education Committee: “As Chair of the Education Committee in the Tennessee House of Representatives, I am extremely pleased to see this type of innovation in creating education opportunities for our young people. Ballad Health has done extraordinary work sustaining access to healthcare in an important rural region, and recognizing the national problem with labor shortages, they sought their own innovative solution to the problem. I applaud Bloomberg for recognizing the value of this investment into Tennessee, and I stand ready to work with Ballad Health to ensure Ballad Health Academy is a success that we can all learn from.”

Tennessee State Rep. Jeremy Faison, Chair of the Republican Caucus: “As a member of the Health Committee of the Tennessee House, I applaud the effort by Ballad Health to find innovative solutions to the labor shortages impacting Tennessee’s hospitals. Our region of Tennessee takes pride in coming up with solutions to problems, and this is an example of how it’s done. I’m also excited that all schools in the region will be invited to participate as this scales up. Ballad Health Academy is a great idea, and I stand ready to help ensure it is successful.”

Virginia Sen. Todd Pillion, Member of the Education and Health Committee of the Senate: “From high-quality early childcare investments in Southwest Virginia to the creation of the Ballad Health Academy, we are demonstrating that our region finds solutions to problems. The national healthcare labor shortage is a major challenge for our nation. I am proud that our local schools in both Virginia and Tennessee are already partnering with Ballad Health to accelerate opportunities for our young people. And I’m committed to ensuring Ballad Health Academy is successful so all our young people can have the security of knowing a high-quality, good-paying job will be available to them.”

Virginia Del. Terry Kilgore, Chair, Southwest Virginia Health Authority: “From the reopening of Lee County Community Hospital to the creation of dental residencies and primary care physician training, Ballad Health has kept its word in finding solutions to the healthcare manpower shortages. This investment into the creation of Ballad Health Academy has its origins in Southwest Virginia, where partnerships in Wise County and Marion have led to the idea behind a partnership program with school systems. This innovation is what we need, and it’s our own unique solution to what is a national problem. I stand with our school systems and Ballad Health in seeking to ensure the success of Ballad Health Academy.”

Tennessee State Rep. Tim Hicks: “My top priority is to support accelerated pathways into jobs, and it’s something I’ve personally been working on since being elected to the legislature. The creation of Ballad Health Academy in partnership with local school systems throughout the region is precisely the type of approach that will get young people to good-paying jobs faster, and it will help ease the labor shortages experienced by hospitals all over the country. I look forward to seeing this initiative get underway and expanding. And I stand ready to do what is necessary to help support the curriculum that will speed up the time to graduation and career readiness.”

Tennessee State Rep. David Hawk, Chair of the Health Subcommittee of Tennessee House of Representatives: “Our local schools have worked so hard to provide students with opportunity, and the partnership between Ballad Health and our local schools has always been a model. This news of the creation of Ballad Health Academy in partnership with our schools is both innovative and collaborative, and a responsible way to deal with nationwide challenges created by major labor shortages. I’m proud that Greeneville is a part of this solution, and excited that all of Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia will benefit from this.” 

Jeff McCord, Former Tennessee Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development/President of Northeast State Community College: “Northeast State Community College has been fortunate to be involved in the development of this idea from its inception. We are thrilled to be a part of this collaborative effort that we believe will expand opportunities for our young people to get good-paying, sustainable jobs, while at the same time serving the healthcare needs of people across our region. Ballad Health has been an integral partner of Northeast State as we help provide the training and education necessary for the great careers at Ballad Health. Ensuring our local health system has the people it needs to serve the needs of the region is a top priority for our college. We are so pleased to be a part of the creation of Ballad Health Academy.”

Dr. John W. Wells, President, Emory & Henry College: “To think what our region would be without trained and competent healthcare practitioners can be overwhelming as our population ages and future generations need reliable healthcare to remain healthy and productive in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia. We value Ballad Health’s support in our current pathways and partnerships with Emory & Henry’s School of Health Sciences and School of Nursing, and we applaud this new initiative to grow the talent as early as possible, make an immediate impact, keep young professionals in the region, and eventually pursue additional higher education opportunities to elevate in leadership and build upon their professional skill set obtained through this new pathway program.” 

Dr. Donna Henry, Chancellor, University of Virginia’s College at Wise: “UVA Wise has a long and productive relationship with Ballad Health, where we have worked to create pathways into careers for people in Southwest Virginia and Northeast Tennessee. Our success with current pathway programs has helped create this model that led to the creation of Ballad Health Academy, and we look forward to working with Ballad Health to scale this throughout the entire region. We are excited to be a part of this solution, and determined to ensure its success.”

Dr. Kris Westover, President, Mountain Empire Community College: “Mountain Empire Community College has long been a partner with Ballad Health, helping to match our young people with meaningful jobs serving others throughout the Ballad Health organization. We are proud that our local initiatives were the inspiration behind the creation of Ballad Health Academy, and we are eager to work with Ballad Health to see this program grow and expand throughout Southwest Virginia. We applaud the innovation behind this initiative, and it’s a great part of our local story that we helped inspire it!”

Enrollment information for Ballad Health Academy will be announced in the coming months. In the meantime, all jobs for the health system are available at www.balladhealth.org/careers. 

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About Ballad Health
Ballad Health is an integrated community health improvement organization serving 29 counties of the Appalachian Highlands in Northeast Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, Northwest North Carolina and Southeast Kentucky. Our system of 20 hospitals, post-acute care and behavioral health services, and a large multi-specialty group physician practice works closely with an active independent medical community and community stakeholders to improve the health and well-being of close to one million people. By leading in the adoption of value-based payments, addressing health-related social needs, funding clinical and health systems research and committing to long-term investments in strong children and families in our region, Ballad Health is striving to become a national model for rural health and healthcare. Learn more at www.BalladHealth.org. 

About Bloomberg Philanthropies   
Bloomberg Philanthropies invests in 700 cities and 150 countries around the world to ensure better, longer lives for the greatest number of people. The organization focuses on creating lasting change in five key areas: the Arts, Education, Environment, Government Innovation, and Public Health. Bloomberg Philanthropies encompasses all of Michael R. Bloomberg’s giving, including his foundation, corporate, and personal philanthropy as well as Bloomberg Associates, a philanthropic consultancy that advises cities around the world. In 2023, Bloomberg Philanthropies distributed $3 billion. For more information, please visit bloomberg.org, sign up for our newsletter, or follow us on Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube, Threads, Facebook, and X.  

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