July 11, 1997

VUMC, Bill Wilkerson Center to join forces

VUMC, Bill Wilkerson Center to join forces

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Bill Wilkerson Hearing and Speech Center

The Bill Wilkerson Center, one of the nation's leading treatment centers for communication disorders since 1951, will merge with Vanderbilt University effective July 1.

The merger of the private, not-for-profit Bill Wilkerson Center with Vanderbilt University Medical Center and its consolidation with the medical center's Department of Otolaryngology will create a new center ‹ the Vanderbilt Bill Wilkerson Center for Otolaryngology and Communication Sciences.

Vanderbilt and the Bill Wilkerson Center have maintained a close working relationship for many years. The graduate training programs of the Vanderbilt Division of Hearing and Speech Sciences are physically located in the Wilkerson Center.

"The Bill Wilkerson Center has had a long and prominent reputation in the treatment of communication disorders," said Dr. Roscoe R. Robinson, Vice-Chancellor for Health Affairs. "The merger with Vanderbilt University Medical Center affects the creation of a new and unique center that will enable otolaryngology and the field of communication science to move to a new plateau. The beneficiaries will be patients from throughout our nation."

The new partnership will be one of the nation's few communication disorders centers with expertise in clinical medicine, education and research, said Dr. Robert H. Ossoff, Guy M. Maness Professor and Chairman of Otolaryngology.

"This integration brings to Vanderbilt some distinct programs that will enhance our service delivery options to patients," Ossoff said. "It will expand and improve our audiology and speech pathology services by bringing together a more critical mass of expertise and an integration of facilities. There are very few models of this type of integration."

Ossoff will become the director of the center. Fred H. Bess, Ph.D., professor of Hearing and Speech Sciences, will become associate director. Another associate director is yet to be named.

The creation of the center will eventually move the Bill Wilkerson Center from its present location at 19th Avenue South and Edgehill Avenue to a new facility that will be constructed in the near future.

The Bill Wilkerson Hearing and Speech Center has a long and distinguished history of identifying and serving the needs of patients with communication disorders.

Founded under the direction of prominent Nashville physician Wesley Wilkerson, the institution has received national and international acclaim for its work in the field of communication disorders.

The Center has stood as a memorial to Bill Wilkerson, Wilkerson's son, who died in World War II at the age of 19.

The center's services address virtually all areas of communication disorders, including articulation disorders, stuttering, delayed language development, speech, language and cognitive impairments due to disease, stroke or head injury, voice disorders and hearing loss.

The merger is taking place for two reasons, Vanderbilt officials said: to reduce the duplication of hearing and speech services offered by both the Bill Wilkerson Center and Vanderbilt; and to merge two world-class programs into one even stronger program.

"One of our goals is to maximize efficiency and create economy by merging these two programs," Ossoff said. "The programs should be more cost efficient, more patient focused and we should be able to provide a better continuum of service within these areas."

Bess said the move is a positive one for the Bill Wilkerson Center.

"We see this as a tremendous opportunity for developing something that doesn't exist in this country right now, the combination of service, education and research around the theme of communication sciences.

"You can't help but get excited about the incredible potential, the synergy that these two programs are going to bring. We have a chance to do something that nobody has ever done before and to have a world class operation," he said.

Jim Armistead Jr., chairman of the board of the Bill Wilkerson Center, said the merger will benefit both the center and its clients.

"The center has always had a close working relationship with Vanderbilt Medical Center, and the merger will build on that historic tie. We feel that combining the strengths of the two organizations, along with the center's rich tradition of service to the community, will create an influential new institution that will benefit our clients and colleagues on a local, regional and even international level."

Betty Nixon, past president of the Wilkerson Center and a current board member, has also been a patient of the center.

"The Bill Wilkerson Center is a world-class organization. I believe the merger gives patients continuous access to comprehensive, research-based treatment for communication disorders," she said.

"Patients can get the best, most effective treatment available, and the merged organization will have increased capacity to develop even better ways to work with patients in the future."