“We have a really good health system,” Levine said. “When you look at the data and all the information, we are one of the higher performing health systems these days. If that story was to be told, it’s something our economic development folks can use when they are trying to sell our region to potential employers. The two most important questions asked by people who want to move here or who are considering moving here are ‘How are the schools?’ and ‘How is health care?’
“This is not a small issue. This is a big deal. If we tell people their health system is good, they will believe it. People will seek to stay here for their health care and, in fact, people may even choose to come here from outside the area instead of going to Roanoke or Nashville or Charlotte or Asheville. This is legitimate news. … People don’t realize what they have here.”
Levine’s evidence includes:
• IBM/Watson, a leading independent health care data analytics firm, named Mountain States Health Alliance as one of the top performing quintile hospital systems in the nation.
“When I told that story, I don’t say, ‘Mountain States,’ ” Levine noted. “I say, ‘Ballad Health.’ I don’t want it to look like (Ballad merger partner) Wellmont wasn’t named. The reality is we are all part of the same system now, and those very same things that got Mountain States highly ranked will benefit the entire system. We’re in the same quintile as the Cleveland Clinic.”
• Becker’s Hospital Review named two of Ballad’s hospitals, Franklin Woods and Hancock County, as among the “100 great community hospitals” in the nation. They were the only two hospitals in Tennessee to be so honored. This list deliberately excludes large hospitals like Vanderbilt, etc., so that smaller hospitals with data showing great outcomes, lower costs and excellent processes can be featured.
• Kiplinger’s just named Johnson City as one of the “ten best places to retire for your health,” citing the excellent hospitals in the area.
• Healthy Kingsport has been recognized by the state of Tennessee as being a distinctive, community-based effort for improving health and has been held up as an example for other cities.
“We have a very close relationship with Healthy Kingsport,” Levine said. “They are a key partner with all of the stuff we will do in population health. We will give them almost $200,000 this year. We pay them to manage our Accountable Care Community (initiative). My hope Is Healthy Kingsport becomes a regional model instead of just Kingsport.”
• Ballad Health was selected by the federal government to serve as one of only 30 Accountable Health Communities in the nation. Ballad has an Accountable Health Community in Southwest Virginia, which earned it a $2.5 million grant for creating a collaborative model helping to solve certain variables to poor health.
“The goal of the community is to bridge the gap from hospital discharges,” Levine said of how the grant will be used. “There are certain variables that lead to poor health and poor health outcomes. The grant is intended to help us identify the barriers — like insecurity and housing problems — and try to develop strategies to close those gaps.”
Mountain States was awarded the grant, but Wellmont was included as a partner. “We did that knowing we were merging,” Levine stressed.
• Ballad Health’s specialty health care services are also beating the big boys. Ballad’s Holston Valley Medical Center in Kingsport has been ranked No. 1 in Tennessee by CareChex for Interventional Carotid Care — carotid stenting, an effective therapy for patients with symptomatic and asymptomatic carotid atherosclerotic disease. CareChex is a national quality rating system. Holston Valley beat out Vanderbilt Medical Center in the Interventional Carotid Care category, as did Ballad’s Johnson City Medical Center.
Levine pointed out that culturally, the merger is going well.
“The management teams have jelled really well,” he said. “I think everybody wants to do their part to contribute to the success of the system. The reality is we’ve got to continue to reduce unnecessary cost because the reimbursement structure is not improving for us. The private commercial payers are still pushing to pay less. We’ve got a lot of duplicative cost structure, and we’ve got to eliminate that.”
Levine said one discovery he has made since the merger closed is the local health care markets with the most financial challenges are the ones that were the most competitive.
Hospitals in the Ballad Health system losing the most money, Levine said, are in Wise County, Kingsport and Greeneville.
“In Kingsport (served by Holston Valley Medical Center and Indian Path), we are going to be looking at the services provided in those hospitals so we can make good, rational decisions about what makes sense for those services to be offered,” Levine concluded.