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Ballad creates new division dedicated to behavioral health

David Floyd • Aug 1, 2019 at 8:00 PM

Ballad Health is set to expand its behavioral health initiatives through the creation of a brand new division.

According to a press release issued by Ballad Health on Thursday, Trish Baise, the CEO of the newly minted Ballad Health Behavioral Health Division, will oversee all inpatient and outpatient services including Overmountain Recovery in Gray and 186 behavioral service beds throughout the system, including the 84 beds at Woodridge Hospital in Johnson City. Woodridge, according to Ballad’s website, is the only dedicated inpatient behavioral health hospital in the region.

The system’s CEO and President, Alan Levine, said Thursday that Ballad will be making another announcement Monday regarding the behavioral health division.

“We’ll be making an announcement that will be an example of the types of things that we hope to be able to do to provide access to people who desperately need it,” he said.

Ballad Health is facing two challenges right now, Levine, said in an interview on Thursday: A national nursing shortage and the number of mental health patients that come into emergency departments and have to be held at the facility, which he said compounds the nursing crunch.

“It’s causing real backlog issues in the emergency departments,” he said.

One of the first tasks of the new behavioral health division will be to find a solution to this problem, finding alternative settings for those patients, Levine said.

“When people complain about long wait-times in the ER, one of the biggest contributors to that right now is this crisis with the number of what we call mental health evaluation holds,” he said. “What happens is a patient comes into the ER, we evaluate them, they’re cleared medically but it may be that they’re being committed to a facility but there’s no capacity available.”

Ballad has to hold those patients in the ER and begin treatment there, Levine said, which diverts staff away from other duties.

This is not unique to Ballad, Levine said. “It’s a national problem.”

Levine said the system will be creating dedicated space for people with behavioral health needs.

Baise said both Franklin Woods Community Hospital and the Johnson City Medical Center have been affected by the increase in patients who show up at the ER with behavioral health concerns. From fiscal year 2018 to fiscal year 2019, behavioral health ER visits at JCMC increased 14.7% and at FWCH increased 15.6%.

Systemwide, behavior health ER visits have increased 13%.

New appointments

Since its formation about a year and a half ago, Levine says the system has seen “incredible,” “measurable” improvements in quality. That, he said, has been led by physicians.

“We created this thing called the clinical council when we merged,” Levine said in an interview on Thursday, referring to a representative body of 40 physicians that provides input on best practices. “The results have been so good that it’s become very apparent that if we create and hardwire a more physician-integrated leadership team, I think we can have some incredible results.”

In its Thursday press release, Ballad Health also announced that it would be appointing nine physicians to leadership roles within the organization, some of which, Levine said, are new.

“Part of what we’re doing here is realigning the organization around the strengths of the individuals that we have and then plugging physician leadership in so that every decision we make, there’s clinician input in those decisions,” Levine said.

Ballad Innovation Center

The Ballad Innovation Center, another new initiative that the system announced on Thursday, will allow Ballad Health to develop partnerships that will bring new life-saving initiatives and technologies to market.

“In some cases there’s a need for investment in capital or support services,” Levine said, “and so the Innovation Center is an organized approach to incubating those ideas and helping our physicians and others translate those ideas into the marketplace.”

The system is getting ready to begin a search for the new CEO of the Innovation Center.

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