Helen Ross McNabb Center, University of Tennessee Medical Center and the United Health Foundation to Expand Access to Substance Abuse Treatment Services in Eastern Tennessee

July 10, 2019
bill lee heather cianfrocco

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee and UnitedHealthcare Community Plan CEO Heather Cianfrocco discuss United Health Foundation’s new partnership with the Helen Ross McNabb Center to fight substance abuse in East Tennessee.

  • $1 million grant partnership will expand the number of care providers to engage more than 250 patients with substance abuse addiction per year

  • Funding will expand The University of Tennessee Medical Center Emergency Room Substance Misuse Harm Reduction and Engagement Program

  • Tennessee is ranked 38th in drug-related deaths according to America’s Health Rankings

To help thousands of Tennesseans and their families fight substance abuse and addiction, Helen Ross McNabb Center, The University of Tennessee Medical Center and the United Health Foundation are partnering to expand access to care providers and behavioral health services throughout East Tennessee.

A three-year, $1.05 million grant from the United Health Foundation to Helen Ross McNabb Center will help expand The University of Tennessee’s Medical Center’s Emergency Room Substance Misuse Harm Reduction and Engagement Program.

“Every day we see the devastating effects of substance abuse and addiction on East Tennesseans,” said Jerry Vagnier, president/CEO of the Helen Ross McNabb Center. “We are grateful to have a partner like the United Health Foundation to help us expand the reach of our resources and services to meet the needs of our neighbors and their families. Together we will improve the lives of the people we serve.”

According to America’s Health Rankings, Tennessee ranks 38th in drug related deaths – with a rate of 22 per 100,000 in 2018. The drug-related death rate in Tennessee has nearly doubled over the previous 12 years.

Funding Supports Hiring of Peer Support Specialists, Expansion of Behavioral Services and Education

The three-year grant partnership will support Helen Ross McNabb Center’s mission by:

  • educating people seeking care at UT Medical Center’s Emergency Room about available resources and services to help address their substance abuse/addiction, particularly individuals addicted to opioids;

  • engaging more than 250 patients per year, with the goal of 100 of these patients accepting a referral to outpatient, residential or other treatment options per year; and,

  • hiring addiction and peer support specialists to work within the emergency department to directly engage patients with needed resources and support.

“The United Health Foundation has built a critical partnership with the McNabb Center and the University of Tennessee Medical Center to provide resources for substance abuse addiction,” said Tennessee Governor Bill Lee. “These efforts provide much-needed support in the fight against the opioid crisis and will do significant work in creating pathways to healing.”

“We’ve worked very hard to provide optimal care for those in our community who seek treatment at the medical center for medical issues associated with opioid and substance use, but we know the problem of addiction remains after we’ve treated a patient’s medical issue,” said Dr. James Shamiyeh, senior vice president and chief quality officer at The University of Tennessee Medical Center. “We are proud this joint effort with the United Health Foundation and the Helen Ross McNabb Center will bring much-needed onsite and ongoing education, as well as treatment, to help many in our community work to overcome their addiction to opioids and other substances.”

“Helen Ross McNabb Center and The University of Tennessee Medical Center work every day to help people fight substance abuse and addiction, and we are honored to partner with them in their efforts,” said Heather Cianfrocco, United Health Foundation board member and CEO of UnitedHealthcare Community & State. “Through this partnership, we are helping to expand access to mental and behavioral health services that are critical to helping build healthier communities in East Tennessee.”

About Helen Ross McNabb Center

Helen Ross McNabb Center is a premier not-for-profit provider of behavioral health services in East Tennessee. Since 1948, the Center has provided quality and compassionate care to children, adults and families experiencing mental illness, addiction and social challenges. As the Center celebrates more than 70 years of providing services to communities in East Tennessee, its mission remains clear and simple; “Improving the lives of the people we serve.” For more information, visit

About The University of Tennessee Medical Center

The mission of The University of Tennessee Medical Center, the region’s only hospital to achieve status as a Magnet® recognized organization, is to serve through healing, education and discovery. UT Medical Center, a 625-bed, not-for-profit academic medical center, serves as a referral center for Eastern Tennessee, Southeast Kentucky and Western North Carolina. The medical center, the region’s only Level I Trauma Center, is one of the largest employers in Knoxville. For more information about The University of Tennessee Medical Center, visit online at

About United Health Foundation

Through collaboration with community partners, grants and outreach efforts, the United Health Foundation works to improve our health system, build a diverse and dynamic health workforce and enhance the well-being of local communities. The United Health Foundation was established by UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH) in 1999 as a not-for-profit, private foundation dedicated to improving health and health care. To date, the United Health Foundation has committed $430 million to programs and communities around the world. We invite you to learn more at

Be The First To Know

Stay up-to-the-minute on the latest headlines from UnitedHealth Group.