JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — Ballad Health, community colleges, career technical education centers and five local school districts are partnering to further accelerate healthcare pathways in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia.
The new “Ballad Health Academy” will provide students with an accelerated education and training in healthcare careers. The new program will incorporate in-person, virtual and in-hospital education and combine healthcare career knowledge and training for students.
“We identify and then earmark students to take an accelerated health care pathway leading to an LPN degree at time of graduation from high school,” said Matthew Loos, chief academic officer for Ballad Health. “These 18-year-old individuals will be guaranteed full-time employment with Ballad Health and will also be encouraged to continue their education through scholarship support and other supports while they’re working.”
Students who decide to take the new curriculum while in high school can do so free of charge.
“The people in the academy, their total costs are covered,” Loos said. “All of their dual credits are covered, all of their books, all of their computers, the simulation experiences, travel, those sorts. It’s all covered, it is no cost to the kids.”
Ballad Health plans to begin the program with the following schools and academic partners:
- Greeneville City Schools
- Sullivan County Schools
- Kingsport City Schools
- Bristol, Tennessee City Schools
- City of Elizabethton Schools
- Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology in Elizabethton and Morristown
- Northeast State Community College
- Walters State Community College
- East Tennessee State University
Loos told News Channel 11 that the details of the Ballad Health Academy curriculum are still being worked out.
“We believe the curriculum is going to allow for these students to, achieve a level of credential that they wouldn’t have otherwise been able to achieve in high school,” Loos said. “By the time of graduation, they will be able to work full time as a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN).”
As the initiative moves beyond its initial pilot phase, Ballad Health plans to bring the program to schools across Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia.
One school in the area that is a part of the Ballad Health Academy is West Ridge High School. George Laoo, principal at West Ridge, said he is excited to be a part of the program.
“Our health and nursing programs are just phenomenal,” Laoo said. “We have wonderful educators that take great pride in what they’re doing and to hear that, we’re going to have an opportunity to enhance those programs even more, it’s just it’s very exciting news for us.”
The new partnership with Ballad and local school systems could be a win-win. Loos told News Channel 11 that the program will combat a major issue in the region: a shortage of health care workers and nurses.
“The hundreds and hundreds of open positions we have right now, direct patient care positions that these adults will be able to help us with,” Loos said. “If we have this successful program where hundreds of these LPNs are coming out every year, we’re finally going to be able to see a little ease in the critical shortages we have across the health care landscape.”
The initiative is part of a $250 million effort led by Bloomberg Philanthropies that is connecting healthcare and education systems.
An initial $15.3 million investment from Bloomberg Philanthropies will help Ballad and school systems create high-school curriculum focusing on academic programming, specialized healthcare classes, work-based learning and more.
Through the program, students can graduate as an LPN and begin full-time work immediately post-graduation, Ballad Health wrote in a release. The modeled program will be replicated in other areas of healthcare, including information technology, healthcare finance and other clinical opportunities.
The program is expected to open in fall 2025. Enrollment information for the Ballad Health Academy will be announced at a later time, Ballad said.