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Last July, a controversial Tennessee law that punished women who gave birth to drug-dependent babies was allowed to expire due to concerns it was sending drug-addicted mothers-to-be into hiding or to abortion clinics to avoid jail time.

The law was passed six years earlier, ostensibly to help combat a rising epidemic of babies born addicted to drugs, known as neonatal abstinence syndrome.

With this law out of the way, the state has returned to its earlier practice of eliminating punishment in favor of treatment. Ballad Health has now doubled down on that approach with a major investment in serving the specialized needs of not just pregnant women and babies that suffer from addiction, but entire families.

It is a significant treatment step in repurposing a former hospital to create a residential facility that will provide a range of residential and outpatient services to 10 counties in Northeast Tennessee. Called the Strong Futures program, it will be housed at the former Takoma Regional Hospital in Greeneville. The state is participating with a two-year, $7 million support grant.

Chairman and CEO Alan Levine said Ballad knew that “addiction, poverty, health and education are all interrelated, and they all have far-stretching consequences that affect families for generations. For Ballad Health to address something as broad as a region’s health status, we must look into each of these elements and see how we can create positive change from the very beginning of someone’s life.”

In Tennessee, more than 8,000 children are in state custody through the public foster care system. Addiction, as well as illiteracy, abuse and neglect, are among the driving forces that remove them from families. Ballad Health officials say they believe a foundational issue that will, over time, change this trajectory is to ensure that children are born with a strong start. And the first area of focus needs to be the women who are most at risk.

Ballad Health Strong Futures will take a 360-degree approach to care and treatment for women and their families, including access to behavioral health services and a residential addiction treatment facility. The program also addresses social determinants of health and offers child counseling, collaborative provider partnerships, community engagement and enrichment activities, daycare services, educational opportunities, financial stability counseling, and health and well-being counseling.

And the program will provide individual, group and marriage counseling, intensive case management, literacy improvement, parenting skill education, relapse prevention services, and work force development services. Fathers and other family members will have access to services, rounding out a program that aims to provide support and care at a community level.

The Strong Futures program uses a collective model framework to build resilience, support families and create safer, more stable and nurturing environments for children and families, addressing the important interconnected relationship between health, education and income, seeking to impact all three for lasting generational change.

It will function hand-in-hand with other Ballad Health facilities and service lines such as neonatal abstinence syndrome specialty care and Families Thrive programs conducted through Niswonger Children’s Hospital, the numerous therapies and outreach services of Overmountain Recovery, and the day-to-day care provided by Ballad Health Medical Associates’ obstetricians and gynecologists, who will be instrumental in referring patients to the new recovery program.

It is a complex and innovative strategy seeking to address the wide range of needs for drug-addicted families, providing those families a way out and those children a future previously denied them. Only Ballad has the strength and tools to develop such an intense and massive program and promise in our region.

Well done, Ballad Health.