CEO of Pikeville Medical Center wins 2023 Gil Friedell Memorial Health Policy Award from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky

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By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

Donovan Blackburn, CEO of Pikeville Medical Center, is the latest winner of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky‘s Gil Friedell Memorial Health Policy Award for his work in changing the landscape of health care in Eastern Kentucky.

“Donovan Blackburn has been a visionary for Eastern Kentucky and has helped bring the type of high-quality care to the region that its residents have long deserved,” Ben Chandler, president and CEO of the foundation, said in a news release. “A chance for a healthy life shouldn’t be determined by the area of Kentucky in which you live, and Donovan’s work is making the commonwealth a more equitable place to access healthcare.”
Gary Dryden of Louisville, chair of the foundation’s Community Advisory Council, noted that the expansion of health-care options in Appalachia facilitated by Blackburn’s hospital has provided care that residents previously had to travel hours to larger cities to obtain.
“Because of his vison,” Dryden said Wednesday, “thousands of Kentuckians have access to resources needed to sustain a healthy life.”
Blackburn’s ability to foster consensus through collaboration has helped secure millions in investment in healthcare delivery, the release said.
Under his leadership, in 2020, PMC opened its Appalachian Valley Autism Center.  In 2021, the Mettu Children’s Hospital opened, allowing clinicians to partner with specialists in cardiology, endocrinology, and pulmonology at the University of Kentucky Children’s Hospital. In 2022, a satellite center in Floyd County opened, enabling the Autism Center to provide services to children from Pikeville and Prestonsburg.
PMC also opened its Heart and Vascular Institute of Eastern Kentucky, the result of a $35.2 million capital investment. The new space includes a new cardiac rehabilitation department, 29 exam rooms and three state-of-the-art interventional cardiac catheterization labs.

“I am deeply honored and humbled and honored,” Blackburn said about receiving the award. “I recognize and realize what this award stands for and I wear it as such also as a badge of honor, not for myself, but for the 3,100 employees that I have the opportunity to lead from the back. . . . And so on behalf of our organization, I’m very proud to accept this award.”

Donovan Blackburn accepts a $5,000 donation to the non-profit of his choice, Appalachian Valley Autism Center from Ben Chandler, and Gary Dryden. (Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky photo). 

Blackburn also expressed his gratitude for the $5,000 donation to the non-profit of his choice.  Blackburn selected the Autism Center, which provides applied-behavior-analysis therapy to children between the ages of 2 and 12 on the autism spectrum.

Blackburn explained that his granddaughter, Ava, who is now 6, was the inspiration for the center because she was born with sensory disorder and is on the spectrum. His wife, Debbie Blackford, is the executive director of the center, which is called the AVA Center.
“We sincerely appreciate not only the award, acknowledging the work that we’ve done throughout Eastern Kentucky, but also for the generosity and the gift for the AVA Center that is changing so many kids lives in the region as well,” he said.
According to the news release, the center supports 90 children and is projected to double that by the end of 2024.
The winner of the Gil Friedell Memorial Health Policy Award is chosen from recipients of a Healthy Kentucky Champions Award, which recognizes Kentuckians who are working to improve the health of their community and the commonwealth. This yera, there was a record number of nominees. Click here to read more about each of them.
The other 2023 Healthy Kentucky Champions are:
  • Dr. Muhammad Babar – Doctors for Healthy Communities, Louisville
  • Shelly Baer – Emerald Therapy Center of Murray
  • Mark Birdwhistell – UK HealthCare
  • Lacretia Dye – Western Kentucky University
  • Donald Frazier – UK Science Outreach Center
  • Ellen Hahn – UK Kentucky Center for Smoke-free Policy
  • Jeremy Harrell – Veteran’s Club of Louisville
  • Susan Jones – Western Kentucky University
  • Dr. Whitney Jones – Colon Cancer Prevention Project
  • Dr. Karl Lange – Mission Health Lexington
  • Katherine Marks – Commissioner, state Department of Behavioral Health, Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities
  • Rhondell Miller – Hotel Inc. of Bowling Green
  • Jerry Ugrin – Lewis County Primary Care Center
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