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Smyth County Community Foundation to sell its remaining share of hospital to Ballad Health
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Smyth County Community Foundation to sell its remaining share of hospital to Ballad Health

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The Smyth County Community Foundation has reached an agreement to sell its remaining 20% interest in the community’s hospital to Ballad Health for $33.7 million.

Following more than 20 months of negotiations, an entity charged with improving Smyth County’s health has agreed to sell its remaining share of the community hospital to Ballad Health for nearly $34 million.

The non-profit immediately plans to reinvest a portion of that money to address the community and region’s drug abuse epidemic.

Ballad Health, which operates the 44-bed Smyth County Community Hospital, will buy the remaining 20% of interest in SCCH from the Smyth County Community Foundation for $33.7 million, according to an announcement released Tuesday afternoon.

Throughout the nearly two years of negotiations, John Graham said the foundation board’s guiding light was how could it “best support the long-term viability of Smyth County Community Hospital” and better safeguard the community’s health.

Graham served as the foundation’s president until his third term ended June 30 and continued to serve on its negotiating committee. He said the foundation sought appraisals of its share of SCCH and worked with consultants and attorneys who specialize in complex negotiations to achieve the best agreement. He noted the final sale price came in well above the top-end appraisal.

Michael Robinson, the foundation board’s current chair, concurred with Graham about the focus throughout the process. He said the foundation’s mission is to support the hospital and also the community’s health and wellness.

The foundation board’s vote on this agreement was unanimous, Graham noted.

In a press release, Dr. David Kiser, a respected Marion-based ophthalmologist and foundation board member, said, “Our mission has always been to support efforts that benefit the health of our community, and that mission is not changing. We’ll continue to partner creatively with the hospital to create positive change and diversify the pool of health-focused resources that enter our region.”

All three men said this move also creates opportunities for the foundation to take separate action to address the community’s health.

“We know there is a correlation between individual health and the social and economic conditions that affect a community. As an independent foundation, we can address the root causes of conditions that contribute to poor community health, engage new resources and be better partners with Ballad Health,” said Kiser.

With this move, Graham said the foundation, which has served Smyth County for 23 years, is poised to make strategic investments in the community’s health.

The foundation plans to focus its future investments in three areas:

1. Care and resources for the aging population;

2. Early intervention solutions to improve health and education for youth;

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3. Holistic substance abuse prevention, care, and treatment.

Tuesday, the foundation announced that it will begin with a $3 million investment in the newly formed Appalachian Center for Hope.  

Earlier this year, Gov. Ralph Northam signed legislation that would allow a now-unused building on the Southwestern Virginia Mental Health Institute campus in Marion to be leased for the center, a regional drug treatment center.

The multi-faceted center is part of a vision created by a cross-section of Smyth County and area leaders who recognized the critical need for a residential treatment center in the region where none currently exists.

Graham, who has been involved in the center’s planning from the idea’s inception, said health needs assessments done this year and five years ago, found “the drug abuse epidemic is front and center of our top challenges.”

In 2018, drug use was believed to be so prevalent in Smyth County that the Virginia Department of Health in conjunction with local leaders launched a needle exchange as part of a Comprehensive Harm Reduction (CHR) plan. At the time, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration projected that 9.7% of the county’s residents over 12 years old was using an illicit drug.

Plans call for the center to provide residential treatment for men, residential treatment for women, especially those who are pregnant or mothering, transitional recovery housing, and a day-reporting center to hold individuals in recovery accountable and help them move into the workforce and society.

“We want to restore hope and healing,” Graham said.

Moving forward, the foundation and Ballad Health will continue to collaborate on ways to address pressing health issues through a joint committee of representatives, a key element of the purchase agreement.

 “The Smyth County Community Hospital is one of the strongest performing and highest rated hospitals in Virginia,” said Ballad Health Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Alan Levine in a press release. “Healthcare is changing and improving population and community health is key to our long-term success and ability to deliver care and grow services for the patient population. The hospital will serve this community well into the future, and we look forward to this new partnership with the foundation to create long-term community impact.”

Ballad officials declined to make additional comments Tuesday but said they would do so later this week.

Ballad has made no secret of its desire to own SCCH outright. When Ballad Health was formed from a merger of Wellmont Health System and Mountain States Health Alliance in 2019, three of its hospitals remained partially community owned. In addition to SCCH, Graham said, 49.9% of Norton Community Hospital and Johnston Memorial Hospital in Abingdon were owned by community entities. At the time of the merger, he noted, Ballad stated its intentions to purchase those interests.

For the foundation, Robinson said some restructuring will take place, including the appointment of an executive director and setting up a process to evaluate grant applications. That work is expected to be complete in mid-2022.

In its more than two decades of service, the Smyth foundation has been instrumental in multiple major quality-of-life projects, including the development of the Lifetime Wellness Center operations in Marion and Saltville, a $5.6 million investment to help establish the Emory & Henry College School of Health Sciences in Marion, and helping preserve Holston Hills Golf Course as a community recreation resource.

Robinson spoke about the ongoing impact of these community investments, but also said, “We’re excited about what the future holds.”

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