Citizens hear Ballad Health's reasons for change at HVMC

Hank Hayes • Dec 7, 2018 at 7:18 AM

KINGSPORT — Close to 100 concerned citizens sought answers from Ballad Health leaders Thursday night about why Holston Valley Medical Center’s Level 1 trauma status and neonatal intensive care unit are going away under the health care system's regional realignment plan.

The Kingsport Board of Mayor and Aldermen convened the special work session at the Kingsport Higher Education Center auditorium to have Ballad Health address some of more than 150 questions sent to the city’s website.

“I do want to remind us all this is not a debate, it’s not a forum to express personal viewpoints … this is a question-and-answer session,” insisted Mayor John Clark, who submitted 25 questions on the web site.

Six uniformed police officers were in the auditorium.

In a nearly 90-minute-long presentation, Ballad Health Executive Chairman, President and CEO Alan Levine began by defending the Wellmont-Mountain States Health Alliance merger that created Ballad Health.

“We sort of laid down our swords and stopped the irrational duplication of unnecessary cost that is being passed on to our citizens and focused on the things that improve the quality of health care,” Levine stressed.

Levine reiterated the merger is not a Mountain States takeover of Wellmont.

Sullivan County commissioners passed resolutions on Nov. 15 opposing Ballad Health’s switch of Holston Valley Medical Center from Level 1 to Level 3 trauma center status and move to close Holston Valley’s neonatal intensive care unit.

When asked by Alderman Jennifer Adler if Ballad Health had data on how trauma cases will be transferred from Holston Valley to Johnson City Medical Center, Trauma Surgeon J. Bracken Burns said part of the challenge is putting together an evaluation system.

“Between the three different trauma centers we currently have, we have three different sets of criteria, no standardization,” Burns responded.

While “major” trauma cases — representing approximately 10 percent of all trauma — will be transported to Johnson City Medical Center, the majority of the cases will continue to be served in the trauma center closest to the patient, according to Ballad Health. “The overwhelming majority of specialty consults for trauma are for orthopedics, neurosurgery and general surgery. Those specialties will remain available for trauma coverage at all three trauma centers (in the Tri-Cities), said a Ballad Health release.

In the area of trauma care, Ballad Health says the region has a higher-than-average incidence of geriatric falls, with half of the system’s total trauma cases being for people over age 64, and 85 percent of those (more than 2,000 cases) are due to falls.

Levine pledged Ballad Health will invest in a new call center to coordinate with Emergency Medical Services units to take patients to the right facility.

Ballad Health also says all Kingsport-based interventional cardiology, orthopedic surgery and neurosurgery will take place at Holston Valley Medical Center. Medical cardiology services will remain at Indian Path Community Hospital.

As for Niswonger Children’s Hospital in Johnson City getting the neonatal intensive care (NICU) business, Levine noted that about 500 NICU babies have been transported to the hospital over a two-year period.

“Niswonger Children’s Hospital is the northeast perinatal center designated by the state,” he told the audience. “Niswonger is the de facto pediatric trauma center.”

Clark told Levine a concern is more investments have been made in Johnson City Medical Center than in Kingsport.

“We’re making investments everywhere,” Levine said. “Here’s the issue — the (patient) volumes are declining. The idea of expanding the NICU (at Holston Valley) is not likely.”


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