The long awaited merging of health companies Wellmont and Mountain States Health Alliance was finally approved by Virginia’s Department of Health on Oct. 30. Tennessee took the first step toward by accepting the merger last month and approving a Certificate of Public Advantage, or COPA, which leads the companies through the merging process.

The wheels of legislation are turning, and the future of our region’s healthcare is being defined as something new, something called Ballad Health. ETSU President Brian Noland shared some insight as to how the merging, once initiated, will affect students. On the ground floor, students’ health takes precedence.

“The real impact of the merger on our students is greater healthcare opportunities in terms of delivery of care and the provision of services to our students and our families,” Noland said.

In a slightly larger scope, ETSU’s Health Sciences department will have new prospects through research opportunities.

“The merger will provide increased investments in research at ETSU, thereby providing enhanced opportunities for students at the undergraduate level, the graduate level and the professional level,” Noland said.

The focus of the new system is also directed toward improving the regional standard of care. There has been some apprehension over the merger involving the Federal Trade Commission, which has caused the various deadlines for decision making to extend.

“What they’ve [Wellmont and MSHA] recognized is that this competition is not sustainable. If the merger had not occurred, there’s a very real probability that Mountain States and Wellmont would have sold to outside companies and all of the IT jobs, the HR jobs and the Central Administration jobs would have left and gone somewhere else,” Noland said.

With unhealthy competition driving each company to an inherent loss, merging is something of a bold economic move on behalf of the region.

“Price regulations have been incorporated into the structure…It’s probably not going to make healthcare cheaper immediately, but I think it will hold down increases in the delivery of care,” Noland said.

It is a difficult task to pinpoint abstract details of something complex without seeing a concrete example. Our healthcare systems are both complex and convoluted, and the merger is only in its beginning stages, but maybe it will begin to simplify things.