Unicoi County Hospital wants to hear your story

Robert Houk • Updated Jan 7, 2019 at 7:38 PM

Storytelling and health care delivery are linking up at Unicoi County Hospital in Erwin, and local students are helping to bring the two components together.

Ballad Health has teamed with the Jonesborough-based International Storytelling Center to incorporate storytelling into the culture of the new Erwin hospital, which opened in October. UCH is the first hospital in the nation to partner with ISC to integrate storytelling as part of its patient care.

ISC President Kiran Singh Sirah said the program expands on the “rich tradition” of the region to preserve its stories. He said the storytelling culture serves as “a link between communities and its institutions.”

Deborah G. Lowery, Ballad’s corporate director of storytelling, said the partnership will not only improve the quality of care at UCH, but will help foster a closer relationship between the hospital and the community.

“Storytelling helps in the healing process,” said Lowery, who noted Ballad is also giving bedside storytelling a try at its Franklin Woods Hospital in Johnson City.

UCH Administrator Eric Carroll said Monday he was “very excited” about the storytelling partnership. He said the program will be aided by a newly-created junior board of advisers at UCH comprised of six Unicoi County Middle School students. Carroll said the board will meet once a month to help the hospital better communicate with residents in the region.

The junior board — which is one of the first of its kind in the nation — held its first meeting on Monday. Sirah called the students “storytelling ambassadors,” who will help take the concept to the community.

One of their first actions was to agree to create a time capsule at Unicoi County Hospital to be opened in 25 years. Lowery said the time capsule will include photographs of Unicoi County Memorial Hospital, recollections of the old hospital by local residents and newspaper clippings.

UCMS student and junior board member Makena Riebe hopes to have a career in architecture when the time capsule is finally opened.

“I personally want to help the community remember what life was like when the hospital opened,” she said.

Fellow board member Brian Hughes said he hopes to be an anesthesiologist working at UCH in 25 years.

“Local residents might not realize what a better hospital we have now,” Hughes said.

Likewise, UCMS students Audie Brown, Seth Hopson, Faith Bennett and Norah Ray said they also hope to bring the community together by residents sharing their stories. 

“My goal is get the community involved in hospital events,” said Ray, who plans to be an orthopedic surgeon. 


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