Hawkins schedules Dec. 17 public hearing on Ballad trauma center downgrades

Jeff Bobo • Nov 27, 2018 at 5:30 PM

ROGERSVILLE — Hawkins County commissioners won't consider a resolution opposing Ballad Health's plan to downgrade Kingsport's Trauma Center until the public voices its opinion on the subject in the presence of Ballad officials next month.

On Monday, the commission voted 20-1 to table a resolution opposing the downgrade of the Holston Valley Medical Center's Trauma Center from Level 1 to Level 3, as well as the closure of its neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

That resolution is expected to come up for a vote following a public hearing scheduled for Dec. 17 at 7 p.m. at the Hawkins County Courthouse.

The only no vote came from Commissioner Jeff Barrett, who presented the out-of-order resolution Monday.

Commissioner John Metz, who chairs the Public Safety Committee, said he felt approval of the resolution Monday would negate the need for a public hearing.

"I'm just going to speak on behalf of an elderly widow in my district who called me and said we want you to do what Sullivan County did (with regard to approving opposition resolutions)," Metz said. "I explained to her that's the equivalent to saying, 'Ballad Health we would appreciate you to reconsider the closure.' In response, they can say, 'Duly noted, thank you,' and move on."

Metz added, "By having a public hearing, that will allow the public to speak — to ask questions. This (resolution) is going to make the need for a public hearing completely useless."

Barrett said he felt the commission could still invite Ballad to attend a public hearing next month if his resolution was approved Monday, but he had no support among his fellow commissioners.

Three similar out-of-order resolutions related to the HVMC NICU closure, Bristol Trauma Center downgrade, and expressing concern about downgrading medical care in Sullivan County were withdrawn by their sponsor, Commissioner Keith Gibson.

Most commissioners who spoke Monday said they were in favor of the resolutions, but they also want to give the public a chance to speak to Ballad personally next month.

"I want to let everyone know I am for this resolution and the other resolutions concerning this," said Commissioner Rick Brewer. "But I wouldn't be doing my constituents a favor by voting for this tonight and us not having a public hearing. We had some people at our Public Safety Committee the other day who would really have like to have spoken. There wasn't time to allow them to speak at that meeting. ... We have some concerned citizens who would definitely like to address some questions."

Commissioner Valerie Goins said she's been contacted by more people concerned about the NICU closing.

"There's a closeness with this NICU unit to my heart," Goins said. "My little granddaughter a year ago the 24th was born, and she would possibly have not lived if it had not been for the NICU. I've been told by various nurses there are babies that would die if they were born in Kingsport and had to be transferred to Johnson City."

She added, "It's very, very important, and I think we need to wait so we can get the voice of the community out there."


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