Ballad Health announces regional trauma care system

Hank Hayes • Nov 14, 2018 at 12:00 PM

JOHNSON CITY — Ballad Health announced a major realignment of its resources on Wednesday with much of the impact to be felt in Kingsport.

A regional trauma and emergency care system was rolled out with new pediatric emergency services scheduled to happen in Kingsport.

Holston Valley Medical Center’s trauma center status will move from Level One to Level Three, while Johnson City Medical Center will retain its Level One status.

“The (trauma center) levels are not relevant,” Ballad Health Executive Chairman and CEO Alan Levine said during a two-hour news conference with reporters. “…The majority of trauma cases will be treated in the trauma center closest to the patient. … Last year more people died from addiction overdoses than people who died from car accidents. … The real discussion is what are the needs of the communities, and how do we match our resources to those needs?”

Those trauma center cases, according to Levine, involve multiple injuries and organ problems. Half of Ballad Health’s total trauma cases are for people over age 64, and 85 percent of more than 2,000 cases involved falls, a Ballad Health release said.

“There is a big difference between trauma and emergency care,” Levine stressed. “All of our hospitals will have emergency departments. All of them will continue doing what they have been doing for emergency care. … Health care will be more accessible for everyone.”

The most serious 10 percent of trauma cases will be treated at Johnson City Medical Center, where 60 percent of trauma cases and a majority of high-severity cases in the region currently take place, Ballad said in a news release.

Supporting the new trauma and emergency care system will be a new medical call center for systemwide coordination in real time, according to Ballad officials.

Kingsport-based interventional cardiology, orthopedic surgery and neurosurgery will happen at Holston Valley Medical Center, while medical cardiology services will remain at Indian Path Community Hospital.

There will be no work force reductions as a result of these changes that have been approved by the state, Levine said.

Ballad Health also noted Niswonger Children’s Hospital in Johnson City, in partnership with the Johnson City Medical Center, will offer new pediatric trauma services to improve outcomes for children with injuries, in addition to new pediatric subspecialty services. All of Ballad Health’s hospitals will be connected to Niswonger through telemedicine by mid-2019, the release emphasized.

Ballad will also establish new Niswonger Children’s Hospital pediatric emergency rooms in Kingsport and Bristol “making pediatric emergency practitioners available in child-friendly settings for the more than 20,000 annual pediatric ER visits in those two communities,” according to Ballad’s news release.

Levine pointed out Ballad Health, the merged health care system that used to be split into Mountain States Health Alliance and Wellmont Health System, now is focused on the “actual needs of the region” as opposed to institutional desires.

“Regionalization of health care is a critically important thing because it helps us focus our resources more intensively for those the most at risk,” Levine told reporters.

“These improvements are significant advances in care for our region. They are important next steps in realizing the vision behind Ballad Health: to create a strong, single system that brings excellent care to the people of our region and that makes best use of our resources and the skills of our outstanding team of physicians and employees.”

Last February, the Ballad Health board formed a 10-member integration committee looking at the changes with an outside consultant.

“The board on Monday voted unanimously to move forward with the recommendations,” Levine said. “…This is one of the most objective processes I’ve ever been involved in. … This is 100 percent driven by evidence and data, and it’s going to take time to do this. We’re not flipping a switch tomorrow.”

The changes are expected to be implemented over the next 10 months.

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