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Ballad Health invests $2M in 21 groups promoting community health

Ballad Health is investing $2 million in 21 organizations across Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia to address societal ills like food insecurity and substance abuse, which can have a debilitating impact on kids, families and adults.

The health system highlighted those organizations during a virtual press conference on Tuesday.

“As we’ve gone down this journey ... to really pivot from being just a health care delivery system to a community health improvement organization, we learned very early that we have to get out of ourselves and really rely on all of the wonderful community partners across the Appalachian Highlands,” said Paula Masters, the system’s vice president of population health programs.

Historically, Masters said, health systems tend to work alongside local organizations to support their work. With its division of population health and the goals that have come out of Ballad’s Cooperative Agreement in Virginia and the Certificate of Public Advantage in Tennessee, Masters said Ballad is further investing in its community partners.

When the population health division was formed after the merger that created Ballad Health, the system started identifying programs that had moved the needle on things like combating neonatal abstinence syndrome, bolstering children’s literacy and reducing drug deaths. In 2019, Ballad worked with 10 organizations.

“We took those learnings, and now we’re happy to say that we’re able to scale it out even further,” Masters said.

What are some of the organizations receiving money?

Maggie Wood, the executive director of A Step Ahead Tri-Cities, said Tuesday that her organization works to prevent unintended pregnancies through reproductive health education and free access to long-acting reversible contraceptives.

With funding from Ballad Health, the organization is expanding its impact to include a 10-county region of Northeast Tennessee, including Washington, Carter, Unicoi and Sullivan counties. The organization provides long-acting reversible contraceptives to patients through its clinic partners.

“Instead of whatever bill would have gone to them, whether it’s for the whole thing or whether it’s a copay or some portion of it, it comes to us instead,” Wood said, “and we pay for all costs associated with getting a long-acting method.”

Wood said long-acting reversible contraceptive methods are the most effective means of pregnancy prevention, roughly 20 times more effective than other forms of contraception. They can, however, be the most difficult to get — oftentimes because of cost.

She added that the organization works to decrease rates of unintended pregnancies, teen pregnancy and the frequency of neonatal abstinence syndrome.

Ginger Keller-Ferguson, the grants consultant for Coalition for Kids, said the organization has served children and families in the region for more than 20 years. It started in 1998 as a grassroots effort in one of the lowest income and high-crime areas of Johnson City.

“Local business leaders and concerned citizens envisioned a safe environment where children and youth of this impoverished community could come together for academic assistance and enrichment activities,” Keller-Ferguson said.

The organization has grown from one site serving 25 kids to multiple locations serving hundreds of kids a day. In partnership with Ballad’s community health initiative, the organization has expanded its programming from Johnson City to Anderson Elementary School in Bristol, Tennessee.

Adverse childhood experiences, traumatic events, referred to as ACEs, like abuse or neglect, disrupt a child’s brain development, making it more difficult for them to succeed academically and socially. This can lead to a greater likelihood of chronic illnesses, addiction and poverty later in life.

“While Coalition for Kids, like so many others, can’t prevent ACEs, we can and do implement effective strategies that build resilience in our children and in our families,” Keller-Ferguson said.

Kindness is an important part of the culture at Woodland Elementary

Kindness has always been an important part of the culture at Johnson City’s Woodland Elementary School. During the 2020-21 school year, though, Woodland faculty and students tried to emphasize a caring attitude more than usual.

“Our Kindness Matters campaign has been a tremendous success,” Woodland Principal Karen Reach said. She added that the school’s Student Council members, under the tutelage of Kristi Presley and Mary Archer, “created and navigated such a beautiful process and student-centered campaign.”

The extra focus on kindness included all pre-k-4 students committing to a Kindness Pledge.

Students also created a kindness quilt and reminded their classmates to be kind to one another during the daily announcements. In order to get a space on the kindness quilt, students selected from 30 actions that ranged from at-home activities to in-school opportunities to brighten someone’s day.

A few of the suggestions included hugging a family member, writing a letter to someone to let them know you care about them, holding the door open for someone, and various other activities that provided someone with a sliver of kindness.

But even this past month, Presley noted that the added emphasis on kindness has helped the school community navigate a different school year.

“Woodland is already a very kind place, but this has been a particularly difficult year for everyone, and I believe our Kindness Matters campaign brought a little more fun to this school year,” Presley said. “Through our efforts of celebrating kindness this year, I think the students have become more aware of when kindness is being shown and also more intentional about showing kindness.”

Woodland fourth grader Reagan Huret said that she takes pride in setting good examples for the younger students. Huret said she has noticed a difference in the way people treat one another.

“Kindness isn’t just about words, but they are important. It is important to show people in our school and the community how they can be kind with their actions,” Huret said.

Woodland third grader Macy Benfield said that she’s also noticed a difference in the school community.

“When someone drops their pencil box, and stuff goes everywhere, a lot of people run up to help that person clean it up,” Benfield said. “I like when people are being kind because it is better than being rude to someone.”

Woodland first grade teacher Laura Rainwater said putting kindness first has had a very positive impact on her students.

She said one of her favorite parts of the school year is when all of the students in the school wear their Kindness Matters T-shirts, which were purchased after students wrote letters to local businesses for donations.

“When we all wear our Kindness t-shirts, it is a fun reminder to have school spirit and keep the kindness going,” she said. “We are learning to help each other more. I notice students going out of their way to assist other friends with their computers, class assignments and even tying shoes.

“My students are taking care of each other by being a friend on the playground, listening more to each other, and taking turns.”

Presley said that students have continued their kindness.

“In my classroom, a secret kindness club has formed,” she said. “The students write encouraging messages to other students and leave them on their desks when we leave to go to lunch, related arts, or recess. They want to stay anonymous, which tells me that they are spreading kindness to bring joy to others, without expecting recognition.”

Inside FIFI: World War II technology tells a story

BLOUNTVILLE — Sean Lucart may not be FIFI’s regular pilot, but he takes pride in showing folks around the restored Boeing B-29 Superfortress.

Lucart, a former USAF C-130 Hercules transport pilot, is also a volunteer pilot with the Commemorative Air Force and was on rotation with this week’s CAF Air Power Tour at the Tri-Cities Aviation ramp.

FIFI arrived at Tri-Cities Airport a day early Monday, and Lucart led an impromptu tour of the former Army Air Force strategic bomber while her temporary crew got ready for the first day of public viewing.

Climbing inside FIFI is not as easy as boarding a modern airliner, as Lucart showed how to dodge around the front pair of bomb bay doors and up a narrow ladder between two dummy bombs and into the front cabin. Inside, the legroom was better than in a modern airliner. Seats and panels for the navigator and flight engineer were well behind the pilot and co-pilot’s seat under a streamlined greenhouse canopy.

While one had to crouch some to go forward, the view covered a wide area to the side and in front of the aircraft. The bombardier’s position had the best view of all, with a framed Plexiglas cap shielding the vintage Norden bombsight.

Each of the cabin positions had its own electric fan, and the layout once sitting felt as roomy as a postwar luxury car.

Lucart, who usually flies the CAF’s B-24 Liberator, said the difference between the two in comfort and accessibility was almost like night and day.

Facing aft, Lucart pointed to two circular hatches. The lower was the access hatch; the upper led to an approximately 30-foot tunnel between what were two pressurized cabins in operational Superfortresses.

“You basically crawl back between the front and rear through this,” Lucart said, looking down the shoulder-width tube lined with olive drab mats.

Since FIFI — named after the wife of her chief pilot Victor Agather — was on the ground, Lucart avoided a cramped trip by climbing back out and heading toward a hatch in the right rear fuselage. After another ladder climb and crouch into the entry, he pointed toward the back end of the tunnel.

Under a Plexiglas bubble in the upper fuselage sat a pedestal-mounted seat that looked like the upper blaster turret seat in the Millennium Falcon.

“From there, one gunner could control all four remote gun turrets,” Lucart said, also pointing to two observers’ seats where gunners could also control individual turrets as needed. A fifth turret in the tail was manned by another gunner.

The gun turret used what was basically an analog fire control computer, Lucart said.

While much of the original aiming equipment has been removed from FIFI, the complete system could compute target speed through hand-operated tracking controls the gunners aimed at incoming fighters.

A few feet aft of the gunners’ seats is an auxiliary power unit — basically a gasoline engine used to generate electric power while FIFI is on the ground.

“It’s pretty noisy back here with it running,” Lucart said.

Walking outside FIFI, Lucart pointed to names painted on each of the Wright R-3350 Duplex Cyclone engine nacelles.

“Each engine is named after a female CAF volunteer,” Lucart said as he started with engine number 1 — Ingrid. Number 2 is Mitzi, number 3 Rita and number 4 Betty. When asked if the engines reflected the personalities of their namesakes, Lucart just grinned.

During World War II, the B-29s’ engines were notorious for unreliability or simply catching fire. Many wartime photos of Superfortresses on the ground included groundcrew with fire extinguishers at the ready, but Lucart said things changed in the last eight decades.

“They’re very reliable engines and don’t give us any problems.”

Lucart said the Soviet Union and Communist China both used copies of the B-29 — the Tupolev Tu-4 “Bull” — reverse-engineered from B-29s forced to land in Russia during WW II.

“They engineered the good qualities, but they also copied all of the problems from the early B-29s,” Lucart added.

While FIFI may be the biggest aircraft on the Tri Cities ramp this week, Lucart also showed pride in two smaller military types parked nearby. The T-34 Mentor — a military development of the Beech Bonanza — was the primary trainer for USAF and Navy pilots through much of the 1950s and 1960s.

“If you were an Air Force pilot, you flew the T-34 and then the T-28 before you went on to qualify in combat types like the F-4 Phantom and F-105 Thunderchief,” Lucart said. “It’s fully aerobatic, but we don’t do aerobatics in it.”

Nearby stood a T-6 Texan, a variant of the main advanced single-engined trainer used by the United States in World War II. Marked with 1943-pattern national insignia, the Texan is a reliable and also aerobatic-capable aircraft, Lucart said.

“That’s what we’re here to do, to tell the history about these aircraft, the people who flew them and what they did for this country,” said Lucart.

Also scheduled for display this week are the CAF’s restored P-51D “Gunfighter” and a wartime PT-13 Kaydet biplane trainer.

The display area will be open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. through Saturday. On Sunday, the display area will be open 9 a.m.-noon.

Parking will be available at Tri-Cities Airport’s long-term express parking lot for air show attendees. Parking will also be available at the Tri-Cities Aviation parking area and near the hardstand.

Admission to the display area is $20 per adult, $10 for children 11-17 and free for children 10 and younger.

More information can be found at the CAF website: www.airpowersquadron.org/tricities-tn.

ETSU Health hosting Johnson & Johnson vaccine clinics throughout June

ETSU Health announced a slew of walk-in COVID-19 vaccination events throughout the month of June on Tuesday, in addition to an event on Saturday.

The events will all use the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which was approved for use in those 18 and older after a brief pause last month. Faculty, students and staff from ETSU Health colleges, including Quillen College of Medicine, Bill Gatton College of Pharmacy, the College of Nursing and the College of Public Health, will administer the vaccines and assist with patient intake and registration.

The vaccination clinics will be held:

  • Saturday, May 29, 10 a.m. to noon in the Millennium Center ballroom, 2001 Millennium Place.
  • June 2-4, 2:30-4:30 p.m., second floor of the D.P. Culp Student Center
  • June 16-18, 2:30-4:30 p.m., second floor of the D.P. Culp Student Center
  • June 23-25, 2:30-4:30 p.m., second floor of the D.P. Culp Student Center

For more information about the ETSU Health vaccine clinic, call 423-439-EVAX (3829). Patients with questions about the vaccine should contact their physician.