After weeks of hearing pretty much only bad news, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, it was nice this past week to hear some good news for a change: the promise of 500 new jobs for our region.

North Carolina-based Ensemble Health Partners, a medical-billing management company, said it would open an operations center in this area, in conjunction with a new partnership with Ballad Health, with the goal of hiring up to 500 people within five years, according to a story by Bristol Herald Courier reporter David McGee.

Although no site for the center has yet been announced, the company reportedly is working with economic-development people on both sides of the Virginia-Tennessee border to find a suitable location.

Besides opening the operations center to accommodate Ensemble’s billing and associated administrative services for health care clients nationwide, the company also has assumed the duties of patient registration, records, insurance and billing functions for Ballad Health in this region, taking on 1,100 current Ballad employees as part of a “strategic” partnership.

Those workers were notified of the change in their employment before officials of both companies announced the partnership during a recent video media briefing, the story noted.

The briefing also noted that Ballad is investing $200 million to purchase Epic software, a common information technology platform.

Ballad’s board of directors had already unanimously approved the partnership, which the briefing said will help the health care chain reinvent and modernize its administrative functions and improve patient satisfaction, the story noted.

“We’ve grown significantly over the past five years,” said Ensemble CEO and founder Judson Ivy. “As health care systems struggle with the [COVID-19] pandemic and running a health system, we’re actually busier than ever because our clients and others are reaching out to us to help them with some of the pressures of the pandemic.

“When we think about why Ensemble was attracted to Ballad and the Appalachian Highlands, it’s really three reasons,” Ivy said. “There is a great amount of dedicated talent here. The culture of this region has a terrific work ethic in addition to quality education.”

We’re glad, of course, that outsiders can see the value of moving operations to our region. Our available workforce is always a strong factor, and there are other benefits that figure into such decisions, as well, including our quality of life, which is greatly enhanced by the area’s abundant natural beauty and recreational opportunities.

Ivy told the newspaper that Ensemble would consider either renovating an existing building to suit the needs of its new operations center, or constructing a new facility. Depending on its specific needs, there could be locations already available that could be reworked to accommodate the company — say, perhaps, a closed Kmart store?

The CEO would not say what the company’s timeline is for choosing a site or opening the center and beginning to hire workers.

Ballad likely had considerable influence over the decision by Ensemble to locate its center here.

“As we developed our relationship with Ensemble over the last 4 ½ or 5 years, they learned we have the people and the culture and the work ethic in the region,” said Ballad Health CEO Alan Levine. “So why should we see our jobs disappear and go somewhere else?”

We’re glad that a significant number of new jobs will be coming to our region from what appears to be a stable, financially secure employer.

It’s just the kind of good news our area needs right now.

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