Johnson City Then and Now: Medical

For much of its early life, Johnson City was like many rural mountain towns — full of family practitioners and a few community hospitals.

That all changed in 1974.

In many respects, East Tennessee State University being awarded a medical school changed the course of Johnson City’s history. In addition to bringing “happiness” to a region that had fought for years to get a medical school established in Northeast Tennessee, it also brought opportunity, jobs and health care to a region that had struggled to attract quality providers before.

“(The) Quillen College of Medicine, really, is what contributes to our ability to have care in a region that otherwise may really have challenges in attracting providers,” Dr. William Block, ETSU’s dean of medicine, told The Press earlier this year.

After the establishment of the medical school in 1974, Johnson City’s premier hospital — the Johnson City Medical Center — began construction on a major expansion that would eventually lead it to become the region’s largest hospital — replete with one of only six level one trauma centers in the state.

After the merger between Mountain States Health Alliance and Wellmont Health System, Johnson City Medical Center became one of Ballad Health’s primary medical centers, along with Holston Valley Medical Center.

But, as Johnson City’s population grew, so too did the need for another community healthcare facility, leading to the opening of the 80-bed Franklin Woods Community Hospital in 2010.

“I think we’re certainly anticipating continued growth in the areas we’re able to serve and expansion of services that the region is in need of,” Block said. “As we continue to do that, we’ll see increased quality and decreased costs across the region.”

Earlier this month, Ballad announced they have invested $27 million in capital projects around the region, and that since the Mountain States and Wellmont merger, more than 180 new providers have begun service in the region — 88 physicians and 94 advanced practice providers.

“Our performance has definitely improved, and we’re very grateful for that, but there’s still work to be done to get us to a level that’s similar to other stable health systems,” Ballad Health President and CEO Alan Levine told The Press in November.

Furthermore, Ballad is in the middle of a $6 million renovation at the Johnson City Medical Center, with plans to add more parking at the emergency room, another helipad and a second entrance for emergency medical vehicles, among other improvements.

“We’re the hub,” Ballad Health’s Southwest Market President StanHickson said of the center in November. “We want to take care of the sickest of the sick. That’s what we’re trained to do and in line to do, and that requires more intensive resources, so being able to expand our capacity in that component is vital.”

And though medical care in Johnson City has transformed and changed in a myriad of ways in its 150 years, much of what is seen today can be traced back to the establishment of ETSU’s medical school.

“We have the unique ability to make that applicable here because of having the college of medicine, the academic Health Sciences Center and the other four colleges to really teach and practice that in a manner (that) I think will be the future of health care,” Block said.

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