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TDH commissioner OKs Ballad Health's NICU plan

Hank Hayes • May 1, 2019 at 1:52 PM

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey announced Wednesday she’s good with Ballad Health’s plan to consolidate Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) services.

“In objectively weighing the pros and the cons of consolidating NICU services, it is my opinion that the benefits of doing so significantly outweigh the detriments,” Piercy noted in a prepared release. “Guided by the well-established standards of regionalized perinatal care, I find the most notable benefit of the consolidation to be the enhancement in quality of care and patient outcomes, secondary to higher patient volumes, sufficient physician coverage and timely specialist access. The consolidation plan ensures adequate bed capacity, robust transport capabilities and marked financial improvement from system efficiencies.”

Ballad Health’s board of directors voted to seek the Tennessee Department of Health’s approval to consolidate NICU services at the Niswonger Children’s Hospital in Johnson City.

In an e-mailed response, Ballad Health spokeswoman Meaghan Smith said: “We appreciate the diligent work from the Department of Health to evaluate our Level III NICU proposal, and we believe they made their decision based on what is best for patients. We agree with and will implement their additional recommendations.” Improving outcomes for our most vulnerable children and their mothers is our top priority, and we will continue to work with physicians and nursing staff to provide exceptional women’s and children’s care in Kingsport and the region.”

Kingsport’s Holston Valley Medical Center’s NICU services will be downgraded to Level One status.

Piercey said she carefully reviewed all the information provided by Ballad and key stakeholders including the regional medical community, Ballad Health employees, local government officials, business leaders and the general public.

“I have also conducted extensive evidence-based research on best practices, along with drawing from my professional experience as a pediatrician and my personal connection to the Northeast Tennessee region,” she pointed out. “As a parent, I also know firsthand the stressors of having a baby in the NICU. Three of my four children were NICU babies who experienced prolonged stays due to prematurity, so I personally understand the significance of this decision.”

It is also important to recognize there are drawbacks to these changes, Piercey added.

“The most obvious are the increased travel time and inconvenience for NICU families,” she said. “Currently, Ballad offers onsite lodging at the Ronald McDonald House in Johnson City and makes transportation grant funds available through its foundation. I recommend that Ballad consider additional dedicated travel funds such as gas cards, meal allowances, etc. for the approximately 100 NICU families each year that will be affected by this consolidation. Additionally, for any staff members whose work location may be adjusted as a result of the transition, I recommend that Ballad Health offer individualized placement services and employment counseling to minimize the impact of this change.

“During this transition, it is important that Ballad communicates clearly with its affected workforce, medical staff, patient base and community as well as keeping the department informed of any notable events or issues throughout the process.”

The department’s role related to Ballad Health’s Certificate of Public Advantage, which sealed the merger of Mountain States Health Alliance and Wellmont Health System, is to provide active supervision, to improve the health and well-being of the region and to maintain access to high-quality health care.

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Previous story:

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey announced Wednesday she’s good with Ballad Health’s plan to consolidate Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) services.

“In objectively weighing the pros and the cons of consolidating NICU services, it is my opinion that the benefits of doing so significantly outweigh the detriments,” Piercy noted in a prepared release. “Guided by the well-established standards of regionalized perinatal care, I find the most notable benefit of the consolidation to be the enhancement in quality of care and patient outcomes, secondary to higher patient volumes, sufficient physician coverage and timely specialist access. The consolidation plan ensures adequate bed capacity, robust transport capabilities and marked financial improvement from system efficiencies.”

Ballad Health’s board of directors voted to seek the Tennessee Department of Health’s approval to consolidate NICU services at the Niswonger Children’s Hospital in Johnson City.

In an e-mailed response, Ballad Health spokeswoman Meaghan Smith said: “We appreciate the diligent work from the Department of Health to evaluate our Level III NICU proposal, and we believe they made their decision based on what is best for patients. We agree with and will implement their additional recommendations.”

Kingsport’s Holston Valley Medical Center’s NICU services will be downgraded to Level One status.

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