Ballad, ETSU partner to prioritize study of childhood trauma


TRI-CITIES, Tenn. (WJHL) – Most Tennesseans have a history with childhood trauma. According to the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth, more than one in four Tennesseans reported some level of adverse childhood experience.

Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACES, are at the core of a new initiative announced by Ballad Health and East Tennessee State University on Friday. The partnership will form a first-of-its-kind initiative, The Strong BRAIN Institute.

A press release from Ballad Health mapped the details of the planned initaitve, chair of the university’s psychology department Dr. Wally Dixon.

About ACES

ACEs are described as stressful or traumatic experiences from a person’s childhood. Those experiences can include abuse, neglect, and general family dysfunction that hinders a child’s access to a safe, stable and nurturing environment they need to thrive.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the first study into ACEs began in 1995, with data indicating that ACEs lead to lifelong impacts such as mental health issues, chronic disease and other negative outcomes.

The study says that the more ACEs a person exeriences, the more likely they will experience negative outcomes later in life.

“Some groundbreaking work on the study of ACEs is already being done right here in the Appalachian Highlands, and we hope the creation of this institute will make our region the national hub for future study of the effects of adverse childhood experiences,” Ballad Health Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Alan Levine said.

The BRAIN Institute

Established through a five-year donation from Ballad to ETSU, the BRAIN Initiative seeks to focus research on ACEs in the community as well as increasing awareness around childhood trauma within the community.

Part of the goal with the initiative includes developing effective interventions and techniques to contest the prevalence of ACEs.

Other objectives include:

  • Developing a certificate program and other educational programs to promote trauma awareness;
  • Developing a plan for transforming ETSU policies, procedures, and philosophies to better align with promoting resilience and ACEs mitigation;
  • Consulting with other community agencies for transforming their policies, procedures, and philosophies to better align with promoting resilience and ACEs mitigation;
  • Promoting, coordinating, conducting, and spotlighting ACEs-related research and service collaborations;
  • Promoting, coordinating, and spotlighting ACEs-related collaborations with multiple community sectors, such as those focused on healthcare delivery, education, business innovation, and faith-based initiatives;
  • Providing infrastructural support for ACEs-related grant applications and grants management; and
  • Providing consultation on ACEs-related topics throughout the community and beyond.

The initiative’s physical location will be on ETSU’s main campus. Staff will include a post-doctoral researcher and a research and services coordinator.

The Brain Initiative will invovle other community organizations such as the STRONG Accountable Care Community, Speedway Children’s Charities and the Niswonger Foundation. Those organizations will help the initative translate best practices of addressing ACEs into community action.

A 2016 study on adverse childhood experiences in Tennessee found 61% of participants had at least one adverse childhood experience, while 27% of participants reported having three or more ACEs. Emotional abuse, separation/divorce and substance abuse were the most commonly reported ACEs in the Tennessee study.

ACEs also have significant economic costs. In 2017, a study from The Sycamore Institute determined that ACEs among Tennessee adults led to an estimated $5.2 billion in direct medical costs and lost productivity from employees missing work.

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