Wellmont Launches Enhanced Cardiac Rehabiliation Program, Receives $1 Million Gift From Bill Gatton 

6/14/16 – Wellmont Health System is enhancing the breadth and depth of its cardiovascular health program with the launch of the Bill Gatton Center for Advanced Cardiac Rehab, an initiative bolstered by a $1 million donation from the businessman and philanthropist.

At a news conference Tuesday, June 14, Wellmont officials joined Gatton and community leaders to unveil the progressive center at The Heart Center, 2050 Meadowview Parkway. This is the first of several centers to be developed by Wellmont across the region, each of which will be named for Gatton.

The program teaches patients about improving their way of life as much as it strengthens their heart muscles by blending exercise with knowledge of healthy lifestyles and computer-based learning opportunities.

“This center positions our health system to remain at the forefront of today’s care model by working collaboratively with our patients to keep them healthy,” said Bart Hove, Wellmont’s president and CEO. “It shows the Wellmont CVA Heart Institute continues to elevate the quality of care for patients with innovative services and partnerships that demonstrate why it is one of the elite cardiovascular practices in the nation. We are extraordinarily grateful to Mr. Gatton for recognizing the value of our heart program and sharing his resources to advance the caliber of cardiovascular care in our region.”

The Bill Gatton center is an official Pritikin ICR (Intensive Cardiac Rehabilitation) location, one of only 13 such sites in the nation and the sole one in the region. Pritikin is a nationally recognized company that trained heart institute physicians and staff members so they can introduce this comprehensive program to the region.

Specifically, Pritikin focuses on a holistic approach to health improvement and prevention through the three pillars of eating healthy, exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy attitude. Patients and their families will learn how to cook tasty, heart-healthy meals they can afford. They are also empowered to be smart grocery shoppers, order wisely in restaurants, lose weight using science-based skills, quit smoking, manage stress and improve personal and professional relationships.

When patients enroll in this program through a referral from their heart institute cardiologist, they participate in as many as 72 rehabilitation sessions. That is twice as many as a traditional cardiac rehabilitation program, with the other 36 sessions providing the valuable education patients need to make lifestyle adjustments that will serve them well in the long run. Medicare covers all 72 sessions of the Pritikin program for patients with qualifying conditions.

Jerry Blackwell, M.D., the heart institute’s president, said this advanced cardiac rehab center aligns with the practice’s vision, part of which is to serve as a cardiovascular health management organization for Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia. He commended Wellmont for its leadership in opening a center that emphasizes prevention of heart disease and praised Gatton, a highly regarded businessman, for contributing to better health in the region.

“The most important part of this endeavor is that it doesn’t just address a single event in a patient’s life and in the life of the family, but it tries to use that sentinel moment as the springboard for a complete change of how they view cardiovascular health,” Dr. Blackwell said. “It’s really a program that concentrates on cardiovascular health as opposed to cardiovascular disease.”

Cardiac rehabilitation is a standard follow-up for patients who have suffered a heart attack and had a stent inserted in an artery or have undergone procedures such as balloon angioplasty or heart bypass surgery. Dr. Blackwell said the exercise elements of cardiac rehabilitation are an important part of the improvement process.

“But the education the center offers with items such as live cooking demonstrations, interaction with a dietitian and videos and talks on the computer takes everything to another level,” he said. “The program also influences the family, which is essential because we have solid information that shows if patients have someone in their support structure who helps them, their chances for long-term success increase significantly. This total investment will make our center one of the premier cardiac rehab programs in the United States – no question about it.”

Wellmont’s cardiac rehabilitation facility in Kingsport used to be located on the third floor of Holston Valley Medical Center, but the hospital continues to play a vital role in this service as it transitions to The Heart Center. The staff members who care for patients in this facility are Holston Valley co-workers, and the hospital provides other support services for its operation.

Gatton has been a heart institute patient for several years and views this gift to Wellmont Foundation as a way to thank his cardiology team, led by Thomas Bulle, M.D. He is well-known for his generosity, having also served as a major supporter of the College of Pharmacy at East Tennessee State University, the College of Business at the University of Kentucky and the Academy of Mathematics and Science at Western Kentucky University, all of which bear his name.

“Having experienced such wonderful care from this group of physicians, I recognized the value of supporting Wellmont’s heart program,” Gatton said. “I am convinced this investment will enhance the great care the heart institute delivers and have a positive impact on our region. Today, the heart institute continues to move forward with the development of another innovative way to strengthen the lives of its patients, just as it has improved mine.”

Todd Norris, Wellmont’s senior vice president for system advancement and the foundation’s president, said gifts such as Gatton’s profoundly influence the quality of care at Wellmont.

“The tremendous philanthropic support we receive from civic-minded individuals in the community has accelerated our programs and facilities,” Norris said. “Mr. Gatton’s generosity will have a lasting impact on our heart program for decades and firmly establish it among the best in the country. He is a prime example how philanthropy can serve as a conduit for giving the next generation of patients a pathway for success.”

The new Kingsport center, located on the second floor of The Heart Center, is a cheerful place filled with plenty of light, windows and attractive photos of people walking, riding bicycles and stretching.

As soon as one enters the facility, a cooking classroom is on the left, immediately signaling how this rehabilitation program is different than anything else offered in the area. It features a full spectrum of kitchen appliances and seating for nearly 20 people, along with pictures of healthy food and details about label reading, calorie density measurements and exercise guidelines.

The remainder of the facility includes a room for yoga classes and another with multiple computers, as well as space for walking and a large area for different pieces of exercise equipment.

“Adopting a heart-healthy lifestyle is an important component on the patient’s road to recovery, complementing medical procedures and medications that are often prescribed by physicians,” said Bob Franceschelli, Pritikin’s president. “Through a comprehensive and engaging series of educational sessions, the Pritikin ICR program teaches patients how to sustain a heart-healthy eating plan, regular exercise and the kind of mindset that fosters healthy behaviors.”

The next planned location for the Bill Gatton center will be on the campus of Bristol Regional Medical Center. The medical director there will be David Beckner, M.D., while the cardiologist in that role in Kingsport is John Bertuso, M.D., both of whom practice with the heart institute. Those two physicians, plus others in this new cardiac rehabilitation initiative, spent time with members of the Pritikin team learning the ins and outs of the program.

For more information about cardiac rehabilitation and the Bill Gatton center, please visit www.wellmont.org.