Ballad Health unveils three new Centers for Early Learning across Appalachian Highlands

Nearly 300 new, high-quality childcare slots created in Tennessee and Virginia

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn., Feb. 29, 2024 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Young learners have new places to grow and thrive, as three new Ballad Health Centers for Early Learning open across the Appalachian Highlands of Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia.

As viewers and listeners tuned in to the first day of the annual Niswonger Children’s Network Radiothon, Ballad Health announced major steps towards fulfilling its commitment of opening up to 2,000 childcare slots across the region. New Centers for Early Learning in Greeneville, Tennessee; Lebanon, Virginia; and on the campus of East Tennessee State University are now open, with collective capacity to serve approximately 300 children. Each center serves Ballad Health team members and community members, and each accepts children who qualify for state childcare financial assistance in Tennessee and Virginia.

“When we launched the Ballad Health Niswonger Children’s Network and our Strong Starts program, our intent was to integrate healthcare, education and community support and make the Appalachian Highlands the best place in the country to live, work and raise a family,” said Ballad Health Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Alan Levine. “High-quality childcare not only helps ensure children are ready to learn by the time they enter school, but it helps parents and other caregivers pursue their own education and work goals with confidence. This benefits not only our team members, but the larger community as well.”

In an internal survey, Ballad Health team members emphasized that dependable childcare is a critical factor when choosing a place to live and work. To support this need, Ballad Health’s Board of Directors voted in early 2022 to invest up to $37 million to improve access to childcare by opening up to 11 new centers throughout the region, in addition to the current programs run by Ballad Health in Johnson City and Elizabethton, and a third run on the campus of Bristol Regional Medical Center by the YMCA of Bristol.

“We’re thrilled to open the first of our new childcare centers to begin serving families in our communities,” said Dr. Amy Doran, Ballad Health’s corporate director of early care and education. “Together, we will work to ensure children are kindergarten-ready with a best-in-class curriculum that supports early literacy, numeracy and science skills, in addition to social and emotional development.”

All Ballad Health Centers for Early Learning will be open five days a week, from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., only closing on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.

“Children, especially infants, toddlers and preschoolers, learn through play. It’s key to their social, emotional and critical thinking abilities,” said Dr. Seth Brown, chief medical officer for the Niswonger Children’s Network. “The curriculum at our childcare centers ensures that children aren’t just being looked after – they’re being set up for a lifetime of learning and growing, which helps prepare them for a brighter future of better health.”

Now open: The Centers for Early Learning in Greeneville, Tennessee, and Lebanon, Virginia
During the first day of the Radiothon, Ballad Health cut the ribbon on its Centers for Early Learning in Greeneville, Tennessee, and Lebanon, Virginia.

“It’s been more than 10 years since we opened the doors of the first and only children’s hospital here in the Appalachian Highlands. It was a landmark moment for the region, and we continue to see returns on that investment every single day,” said Scott Niswonger, a Greeneville resident and chief benefactor for Niswonger Children’s Hospital and the Niswonger Children’s Network. 

“Investing in children’s well-being beyond the hospital is another milestone moment. The Ballad Health Strong Starts program, which supports families from birth to age 5, has thousands of participants region-wide, and the Strong Futures program here in Greenville supports hundreds of moms in addiction recovery and their children. Adding high-quality childcare to the mix locally is helping further wrap families in the type of support necessary for our children to learn and grow, and I am thrilled with Ballad Health’s continued commitment."

Located on the campus of Tusculum University, the Center for Early Learning in Greeneville features six classrooms bordering a common area, as well as a playground that includes innovative equipment to encourage imaginative play. At full capacity, 92 children, from infants to age 5, can be served.

In Lebanon, the Center for Early Learning is located less than three miles from Russell County Hospital, making it especially convenient for Ballad Health team members and their families. At full capacity, 70 children, from infants to age 5, can be served.

“People with young families are a huge part of our team, and they’re crucial to our ability to provide care,” said Greta Morrison, administrator and chief nursing officer of Russell County Hospital. “The childcare crisis has a direct effect on the shortage of healthcare professionals and qualified professionals nationwide, and it is vital for everyone that there is adequate access to high quality childcare.”

Ballad Health, East Tennessee State University unveil partnership to expand access to childcare and train future educators
The Ballad Health and East Tennessee State University (ETSU) partnership will enhance ETSU’s current early childhood development curriculum, as students can complete their required observation hours at Ballad Health’s Centers for Early Learning, while developing hands-on experience under the guidance of licensed, experienced childcare professionals. 

“ETSU and Ballad health continue to partner to produce positive, generational change,” said Dr. Brian Noland, president of East Tennessee State University. “From the Strong BRAIN Institute – which promotes the awareness of best practices and empirical study of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) – to this newest childcare center on campus, where we will train the next generation of early childhood development professionals educating our children, our commitment to the region is always growing.”

Once a licensing transfer is complete, ETSU’s current childcare center will become part of the Ballad Health Centers for Early Learning, and it will be expanded accommodate significantly more children. The expanded center will continue to house current Little Bucs and Head Start students, while offering more childcare openings for team members of Ballad Health and ETSU, as well as community members. At full capacity, at least 133 children, from infants to age 5, can be served.

“Even with the addition of these centers, new centers slated to open in Norton, Kingsport and Abingdon later this year and Ballad Health’s future expansion efforts, the region still has a long way to go in terms of completely addressing the shortage of high-quality childcare,” Levine said. “We believe this effort is a model of how employers, government and community organizations can partner to tackle this challenge.”

Registration information
Families interested in enrolling their children in Ballad Health’s Early Learning Centers, or those who have questions, should fill out this form: or call 423-430-7632.

Radiothon continues to support local children’s care
The Niswonger Children’s Network Radiothon, which supports Niswonger Children’s Hospital and the extension of other children’s network services, continues on Friday, March 1, airing on 98.5 WTFM, 95.9 The Hog WRZK, Classic Hits 102.7 WVEK, and ESPN Tri-Cities from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. News Channel 11 anchors will also broadcast live from the event in the children’s hospital lobby.

Interested donors can call 855-611-KIDS (5437) to make their pledges. Donations can also be accepted at any time by visiting or texting KITE to 24365.

For more information about the 2024 Niswonger Children’s Hospital Radiothon, please visit or email


About Ballad Health:
Ballad Health is an integrated community health improvement organization serving 29 counties of the Appalachian Highlands in Northeast Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, Northwest North Carolina and Southeast Kentucky. Our system of 20 hospitals, post-acute care and behavioral health services, and a large multi-specialty group physician practice works closely with an active independent medical community and community stakeholders to improve the health and well-being of close to one million people. By leading in the adoption of value-based payments, addressing health-related social needs, funding clinical and health systems research and committing to long-term investments in strong children and families in our region, Ballad Health is striving to become a national model for rural health and healthcare. Learn more at

About the Ballad Health Niswonger Children’s Network:
The Ballad Health Niswonger Children’s Network is a regional system of healthcare and community services marking a new phase in high standards of care and well-being for children, regardless of where they live across the Appalachian Highlands. The Ballad Health Niswonger Children’s Network is comprised of physical assets, such as hospital and clinic locations, as well as community outreach programs and partnerships that advance children’s health. It also represents Ballad Health and East Tennessee State University’s commitment to expand pediatric services and specialties, along with a concerted regionwide effort to expand services for children beyond care when they’re sick or hospitalized.


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