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Ballad Health executives: We've hired 365 nurses since merger

Zach Vance • May 12, 2018 at 12:02 AM

When Ballad Health CEO Alan Levine took to Twitter on Thursday to announce that his hospital system had hired 255 new nurses, he was actually shortchanging himself.

A month after the Tri-Cities’ only hospital system announced it was cutting 150 occupied jobs, Ballad Health officials said they’ve hired 365 nurses, including 265 new graduates, since the merger of Mountain States Health Alliance and Wellmont Health System was officially finalized in late January.

“Each Friday we update our numbers, so we had 265 new graduates as of today,” Lisa Smithgall, chief nursing officer for Ballad Health, said.

“In addition to those new graduates, we’ve hired an additional 100 nurses (since the merger) who already had nursing experience and either worked in another organization, another entity or moved to our area with nursing experience.”

Smithgall said Ballad Health begins courting soon-to-graduate nursing students as early as January, and immediately after graduation, the former students start transitioning to Ballad Health to begin their careers.

“They often have a lot of new ideas and evidence to bring, and they work with our experienced team members in providing new insight,” Smithgall said. “(The new hires) are just really valuable members of our team, and we’re really excited to have them.”

Debbie Dover, chief human resources officer for Ballad, said 265 new graduates is consistent with the number of students Ballad’s two legacy systems, Mountain States and Wellmont, hired together after graduations before the merger.

“The numbers are tracking pretty similar to what they have in the past,” Dover said.

New graduates were hired in 18 of Ballad Health’s 21 hospitals, and Smithgall said the majority of the newly hired graduates either attended East Tennessee State University, Milligan College, Northeast State Community College or another regional college.

“The majority are from the local nursing schools, but sometimes they’re from schools outside our region. Because some nursing students will live in this region with their families, go away to school and after graduation come back here to live,” she said.

Due to a shortage of nurses, Ballad Health has even started partnering with local colleges to expand the capacity of nursing classes.

“We have added some extra students to the population because all of our schools were at capacity. We knew that we needed nurses in the region because of the nursing shortage across our nation. We were able to work with those programs to add additional students to the programs that they would not have been able to accomodate in the normal programing,” Smithgall said.

The first class of ETSU’s and Holston Valley Medical Center’s collaborative nursing program graduated in May.

“They graduated an additional 16 students above their normal class that they graduate every year. In fact, 10 of those 16 stayed on to work for Ballad Health,” Smithgall said.

Some of the new hires will go into the medical surgical environment, while others will work in specialty areas.

“It just depends on what area they go to as to how much their ongoing orientation is after they come into the workforce. Some of our specialty areas, you need a little longer of an orientation,” Ballad’s top nursing executive said.

Shortly before 2 p.m. Thursday, Levine tweeted “A GREAT OUTCOME. While @BalladHealth reduced 150 mostly administrative positions last month, we also HIRED 255 new graduate nurses, who are now beginning to work. 105 NET NEW JOBS. As we said we'd do.”

Following up on the initial tweet, Levine thanked ETSU, Milligan and other regional colleges, saying it was because of them that Ballad can keep hiring.

“Not a bad week for @BalladHealth. Lower interest rates on our bonds with overwhelming demand on the market and 255 new nurses hired, creating 100 new job opportunities where it matters....at the bedside. Love it when a plan comes together. We love our nurses,” the CEO tweeted.

Despite the influx of new hires, Dover said the hospital system still has nurse job openings. To learn more about nursing careers at Ballad Health, visit www.balladhealth.org/careers/nursing.

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