Earlier this year, the state of Tennessee approved Ballad Health’s proposal to enhance care for vulnerable babies by focusing NICU services at Johnson City’s Niswonger Children’s Hospital, the region’s state-designated perinatal center. A steering committee and work groups including Ballad Health team members, obstetric physicians and neonatologists have been working to develop transition plans. That work is expected to be complete by Sept. 1.
Ballad Health noted babies will still be delivered in Kingsport. However, babies expected to require NICU services will be scheduled for delivery at the Palmer Family Birth Center at Niswonger Children’s Hospital.
“There, they will have access to a full complement of pediatric subspecialty services that are not available anywhere else in the region,” Ballad Health said in a statement. “High-risk babies born at another Ballad Health facility can be quickly and safely transported to the Level III NICU at Niswonger by our highly trained and experienced Neonatal Transport Team. This advanced neonatal care team has been in place for 35 years and safely transports more than 250 babies each year from Tennessee, Virginia and surrounding states to Niswonger Children’s Hospital.”
Ballad Health reported that in its approval of its proposal to regionalize perinatal services, the Tennessee Department of Health affirmed that the most notable benefit of the change is enhancement in quality of care and patient outcomes.
“Studies have shown that focusing higher-acuity services in one location improves outcomes. By increasing the volume of care and the number and types of specialists at a single site, we can improve outcomes for our most vulnerable babies,” Ballad’s statement said. “At Niswonger Children’s Hospital, high-risk babies will benefit from access to the most advanced specialists, services and technology all in one place. Focusing NICU care in one place will also improve our ability to recruit additional pediatric subspecialists to the region.”
Obstetrics care, including high-risk obstetrics, will still be available in Kingsport. Healthy babies and babies born with minor complications will still receive the care they need at Ballad Health nurseries throughout the region, including the Barbara Humphries Birthing Center at Holston Valley Medical Center.
“An advanced neonatal care team will remain in the Kingsport market to assist with any babies born with unexpected complications,” Ballad’s statement noted. “Importantly, all Holston Valley NICU nurses and team members will be able to continue their employment with Ballad Health once the transition occurs.”