BRISTOL, Tenn. (WJHL) – Ballad Health and the STRONG Accountable Care Community unveiled a new partnership Thursday with national technology company ‘Unite Us.’

At an event at United Way of Bristol, Ballad officials announced an investment that will allow community-based health and social care organizations to join an online platform for free.

A release from Ballad states the partnership aims to “enhance community members’ health and well-being – even outside of hospital walls.”

Health leaders in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia hope using a new software platform will help connect people in need to social services, including food, childcare, and transportation.

The STRONG Accountable Care Community group has existed since late 2018. They aim to help children and families facing health issues and poverty. While countless different social service providers exist in their 21-county coverage area, leaders say there hasn’t been a technology to connect them together – until now.

“It would be impossible to reach, were we to stay engaged with the very fragmented service delivery system that we’ve had up until now. Unite Us Tennessee and Virginia is helping us to overcome that fragmentation,” said STRONG ACC Director Mark Cruise.

Unite Us software is already used in 42 states. Food banks, shelters, health providers, and more can join the platform. When organizations identify people in need, that person can be added to the system. Different organizations can make referrals to ensure that person’s needs are met. Outcome data is also tracked on the platform.

The contribution from Ballad Health will bring the service to the state of Tennessee and the Southwest portion of Virginia for the first time.

Ballad Senior VP of Community Health and System Advancement Todd Norris said working with community partners is key to helping solve many of the region’s biggest crises, including addiction, drug use, and behavioral health.

“We also knew that despite the fact that Ballad would have a commitment, and would have the ability to make a major investment in that work of population health over the first decade of the health system, that we could never do this alone,” said Norris.

On Thursday, leaders from Feeding America Southwest Virginia and United Way of Bristol said they’re eager to use the Unite Us technology.

“For many years our United Way, and our community, has not had one organization, where folks in need could go,” said Lisa Cofer, executive director for United Way of Bristol.

Cruise said 37 different organizations in the region are represented on the platform for its initial launch, but they soon expect to have hundreds. STRONG ACC and representatives from Unite Us said interested organizations around the region would be welcomed into the network.

“Within Ballad Health, Unite Tennessee and Unite Virginia will allow specially-trained staff, conducting health-related social needs screenings for gaps in care such as food and housing insecurity, transportation challenges or other obstacles, to connect with community organizations committed to resolving those issues,” Ballad’s release stated. “The network, however, is not dependent on Ballad Health. Participating organizations will also be able to refer clients to each other – even if the people they’re referring aren’t Ballad Health patients.”