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ETSU, Ballad Health announce institute to study adverse childhood experiences

David Floyd • Jun 27, 2020 at 9:30 AM

JOHNSON CITY - Aiming to root out experiences that can have debilitating ramifications for children through adulthood, East Tennessee State University and Ballad Health announced the creation of a local institute to research adverse childhood experiences.

Officials hope the Ballad Health Strong BRAIN Institute will serve as regional and national resource for encouraging awareness and study of adverse childhood experiences (also called ACEs), promote evidence-based practices to prevent the negative effects of ACEs and foster a citizenry and workforce that understands the role of trauma in health outcomes.

“BRAIN” is an acronym for “Building Resilience through ACEs-Informed Networking.”

“We know from scientific literature that having ACEs not only traumatizes the children experiencing them, but they disrupt the development of normal brain architecture, which has lasting effects through the lifetime,” said Wallace Dixon, the new director of the Strong BRAIN Institute, during a press conference Friday at ETSU.

According the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adverse childhood experiences are potentially traumatic events that occur during childhood, such as violence, abuse or neglect, that are linked with chronic health problems, mental illness and substance abuse during adulthood. They can also negatively impact access to education and wealth.

The institute will be guided by an advisory board composed of community members and experts from ETSU and Ballad Health.

Ballad Health has already committed $15 million to support the ETSU Center for Rural Health Research over a 10 year period.

In addition, Levine said Ballad has set aside about $2 million to $3 million for the Strong BRAINS Institute over a five year period, which will act as seed money to support the center as it accumulates research funding.

Ballad Health CEO Alan Levine said a child’s brain is developing during the first three years of its life, and when basic developmental building blocks like parents, good nutrition and family support aren’t present, a child’s brain is being hardwired to defend itself.

“Those are really good instincts for a child to protect themselves, but they carry that into adulthood,” Levine said. “And if that isn’t addressed and it isn’t minimized, you’ve created another generation of somebody who is going to lose hope. And if you want to close the gap in terms of health disparities, racial disparities, this is how you do it.”

According to the CDC, about 61% of adults surveyed across 25 states reported experiencing at least one type of adverse childhood experience. The agency estimates that 1.9 million cases of heart disease and 21 million cases of depression could have been avoided by preventing those events.

Dixon said the institute at ETSU consists of 14 scientists, educators and leaders from 11 different academic department across eight of the university’s academic colleges.

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