Addressing the BOS and a packed crowd of spectators, Ballad Health officials attended the two-hour meeting to explain the changes and the impact they could have on Scott County residents. After hearing Ballad’s presentation, the BOS still unanimously voted to create a resolution opposing the changes.
The BOS also voted to request that Ballad Health’s Board of Directors consider maintaining at least a Level 2 trauma center at Holston Valley Medical Center, rather than downgrading it from a Level 1 to a Level 3.
On Nov. 14, Ballad Health announced that Holston Valley Medical Center’s trauma center status will move from Level 1 to Level 3, while Johnson City Medical Center will retain its Level 1 status. Level 1 trauma centers can treat patients experiencing major trauma, whereas Level 3 trauma centers treat less severe cases.
Ballad Health also announced plans to consolidate its neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) services at Johnson City’s Niswonger Children’s Hospital. This change has not yet been approved by the state of Tennessee, according to Ballad officials, while the trauma changes have already been approved.
Eric Deaton, senior vice president of market operations for Ballad Health, started by emphasizing that Ballad Health is not closing any of its trauma centers, a misconception he says has been circulating since the changes were announced. Rather, Ballad plans to re-categorize its Kingsport and Bristol trauma centers in a move that Deaton said will have minimal impact on patients.
“Scott County, based on our numbers, … only had seven cases last year of the high-end trauma,” Deaton said. “So the county would be impacted possibly by those seven cases; instead of Holston Valley, they’d be going to Johnson City, potentially, for care. Now we’ve talked with EMS, and more than likely what would happen is that patient would be stabilized at the closest facility and then taken to the Level 1 trauma center, possibly. It just depends on the type of treatment that that patient needs.”
Lisa Carter, CEO of Niswonger Children’s Hospital, spoke about consolidating NICU services to Johnson City, noting that the number of NICU babies has declined at Holston Valley Medical Center, according to Ballad data.
“At Niswonger Children’s Hospital, we do have the advances in technology, we do have the pediatric subspecialties present,” Carter said. “We also have around-the-clock providers in house that will take care of those patients.”
The public’s view
Nine people spoke during the meeting’s public comment period, including Dani Cook, who traveled from Atlanta to speak on behalf of her family members who live in the region. Some commenters were met with applause from public spectators, many of whom did not appear to support Ballad’s changes.
Most expressed concern that having one Level 1 trauma center in Johnson City creates a disadvantage for Southwest Virginia residents, who would be faced with increased travel times in the event of a Level 1 trauma.
In regards to the NICU, some commenters expressed concern that mothers who give birth at Holston Valley Medical Center would be separated from their babies if they had to be transported to a NICU in Johnson City.
“I ask you, I am pleading with you: Protect the lives of the people who trust you to do that,” Cook told the BOS, “because they (Ballad officials) are not doing it.”
BOS member Danny Mann said he hoped Ballad would seriously consider the county’s stance before it begins implementing the changes.
Supervisor Chad Hood added that he was pleased to see the county’s residents speak their minds.
“The thing of it is, when you have what I like to call Southern Appalachian people, sometimes they’re not as vocal on certain things as they should be,” Hood said, “but I’m glad to see that they were vocal today.”