JOHNSON CITY, (Tenn.) — According to Ballad Health leaders, the heart of a community can be measured by how it treats its children.

Our region’s only children’s hospital is taking a major step forward when it comes to access to care for sick and injured kids by expanding – adding three total floors to the Niswonger Children’s Hospital in Johnson City.

With $21 million raised to date, hospital system leaders and donors gathered Monday at the site of new construction to announce that phase one of construction is now underway.

“This is something that is truly regional in nature and it is truly going to be transformational,” said Ballad President and CEO Alan Levine.

Ballad leaders say they are quite literally raising the standard of healthcare for children from every corner of our region as they build two brand new floors on top of the existing hospital.

“The services that will be available to the children of this region, it will be something like we have never had before,” said Scott Niswonger, founding donor of the Niswonger Children’s Hospital and member of Ballad’s board of directors.

Niswonger’s financial contributions lead to the opening of his namesake hospital in 2009. This past year alone, the hospital treated 18,000 children from the region and now houses 20 different pediatric specialties.

It is a donation from another Tri-Cities family that helped launch the hospital’s current expansion: the Nicewonders, not to be confused with the Niswongers.

“To the J.D. Nicewonder family, thank you very much for this contribution in expanding the services that will be available to the children of this region,” said Niswonger.

Levine says it was over a Chic-fil-A lunch that the expansion’s initial $7 million in funding was secured.

“We didn’t even finish the first 20 minutes of our presentation and he said, ‘We are in. We believe in this vision,'” Levine said. “This wouldn’t have gotten started without the J.D. Nicewonder family saying, ‘We see your vision, we believe in it, and we want to see it happen.'”

Another $484,000 was brought in by the Niswonger Children’s Hospital Radiothon this year, where members of the community made their contributions to the expansion.

Nick Robinette, corporate director of construction and project management for Ballad Health, says the logistics behind a veritcal expansion are tricky, but possible.

“The roof membrane will come off and we will start the construction up,” Robinette explained.

“Cranes will be swinging, and we can’t shut down the hospital. We’re gonna have to work closely with the clinical team and leadership team to make sure they are very aware of where we are working and what we are doing to make sure patient safety always comes first.”

The construction will bring new spaces for specialty care throughout pregnancy, childbirth and into childhood, all consolidated to one place. A concept that has been a longtime goal of Niswonger Children’s Hospital CEO and former NICU nurse Lisa Carter.

“We want to get all of those clinics here so families can come to one location and not have to travel back and forth on this campus, across the street, and other areas,” said Carter.

Carter added NICU nurses and physicians have played a close role in the design of the new neonatal units, helping design every aspect from where the clock hangs on the wall to where the ventilator is placed.

The construction project boasts neonatal care for the smallest of patients like never before seen in the Tri-Cities region.

“This will turn the NICU into more of a patient room environment, they will have private rooms, they will be able to spend time with their families,” said Robinette.

The target finish date for construction is set for the fall of 2024.

Ballad Health is still looking to raise $9 million to reach its fundraising goal of $30 million.

Contributions can be made online for those who wish to donate.