ISC and Ballad Health partner to integrate storytelling into new Unicoi Hospital

The International Storytelling Center and Ballad Health have announced a new partnership designed to embed storytelling into the culture of the new Unicoi County Hospital in Erwin.

The innovative partnership represents a first-of-its-kind collaboration between an arts organization and a health system, working together to find new ways to serve patients and promote healthy habits across communities.

The hospital – which opened on Oct. 23 – is the first hospital in the country to partner with the International Storytelling Center and integrate storytelling into patient care. The proximity of the two organizations offers a unique opportunity to work on a storytelling-based healthcare initiative designed to serve as a model for the rest of the nation.

“So many people in our area have a special story or unique tie to our hospital,” said Eric Carroll, administrator of Unicoi County Hospital. “I’m excited about the ways the International Storytelling Center can help us listen and relate to our patients through their stories to deliver high quality healthcare services and education and enhance the ways we can make a positive impact on the health of our community.”

The partnership involves multiple projects that encourage a culture of listening and storytelling to engage patients, team members and the community. A few of the first projects include:
• International Storytelling Center-led training for all employees, beginning with the administrative staff, on using the storytelling techniques of listening and reflection to enhance engagement with each other, patients and the community
• Establishment of a junior board to encourage input from local youth. The board will complete a project each year to benefit both the hospital and the community, and it will be challenged to listen to the needs of the community and consider creative ways to address them.
• Opportunities for hospital staff and community members to attend story circles, small group sessions where participants share memories. Dates and locations will be announced.

Drawing on the region’s rich storytelling heritage, the International Storytelling Center will use its collective expertise and new research to help Ballad Health leverage the power of storytelling in the design and delivery of healthcare in Unicoi County. Both organizations aim to help the residents of the county recognize the new hospital not only as a place for high-quality care to treat illness, but as a community center that fosters and encourages wellness.

“Increasingly, people are recognizing the power of storytelling as an innovative and creative approach to healing the body, mind and spirit,” said Kiran Singh Sirah, president of the International Storytelling Center. “We’re excited to provide the tools to support Ballad Health in its vision of using storytelling to improve and support patient and family care, messages about wellness and the overall health of the community.”

Unicoi County Hospital is also working toward an International Storytelling Center Site of Excellence designation, an honor earned by organizations that incorporate storytelling into their core missions, planning, training programs, programming and community outreach.
The designation also certifies that Unicoi County Hospital has created a sustainable storytelling culture, one that can be perpetuated through multiple generations. To make that happen, the hospital is instilling a junior board made up of six students from Unicoi County Middle School.

The board is challenged with brainstorming ideas that improve the hospital experience, offering their opinions, connecting with community groups related to hospital projects and serving as volunteers and guides for hospital events. They also will choose and create a legacy storytelling project that connects the community and the hospital, which will be on display at Unicoi County Hospital. 

The inaugural junior board – who range from sixth- to eighth-graders – were chosen by their teachers and have a mix of strengths and talents such as writing, leadership skills, art and other abilities. Faith Bennett, Audie Brown, Seth Hopson, Brian Hughes, Norah Ray and Makena Riebe will serve as members of the first Unicoi County Hospital junior board.

As classes graduate and new members join, interested students will follow an application and interview process conducted by the school, Unicoi County Hospital, Ballad Health and current junior board members.

“Like so many of our patients and team members, these students were born and raised in Unicoi County – this is home,” Carroll said. “Through Unicoi County Hospital, they can connect to our community and region on an even deeper level, while carrying on our legacy and story.”

To learn more about the International Storytelling Center, please visit To learn more about Ballad Health, visit