Ballad Health augmenting health departments’ vaccination of seniors

Local Coronavirus Coverage

Ballad Health has begun operating three community COVID vaccination sites in Northeast Tennessee focusing on area residents 75 and over.

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – If you’re over 75 and chomping at the bit to get your first dose of COVID vaccine, you have a lot in common with Ballad Health.

“I’m very happy people want to take it,” the hospital system’s chief operating officer, Eric Deaton said Thursday. “That’s music to our ears to know that.”

To that end, Ballad opened three appointment-only points of distribution (PODs) in Northeast Tennessee this week and has begun administering the vaccine to people 75 and older. The health system has completed successful talks with the Virginia Department of Health about opening sites in Southwest Virginia as well.

Friday evening, the Mount Rogers Health District announced that Ballad would open a site in the district. The district’s news release quoted Deaton as saying the system would open a site in Abingdon.

The release also said Food City and several other private providers had partnered with Mount Rogers. Details about how people 75 and older should inquire are available at this link on the district’s website:

“Right now the idea is get as much vaccine out to the people who need it the most,” Deaton said.

He said the intent is to supplement what health departments in its 21-county, two-state market area are able to do, in close coordination with them.

“We talk with them almost daily and I think getting the vaccine out by coordinating our efforts has really been a positive,” Deaton said.

The volume of vaccinations will be partly governed by Ballad’s own access to vaccines. Deaton said earlier this week the system had received about 16,000 doses, and Friday it reported having administered 15,225.

News Channel 11 has requested information on the total number of vaccines Ballad has received to date. We’ve also requested a timeframe for upcoming shipments and the expected quantity.

As of 5:45 p.m. Friday Ballad had only reported that it is “working with the state to fulfill our shipments.”

The system isn’t advertising the POD locations in hopes they won’t be overrun, as has happened during some area health department vaccination events. Ballad started this week by contacting patients who are patients of any of Ballad’s outpatient “Ballad Health Medical Associates (BHMA)” groups.

That includes anyone who has used Ballad primary, specialty or urgent care services.

Regardless of someone’s provider, if they’re over 75 Deaton said “hopefully by the first of next week we’ll have it set up on our website and through our app where you can go in and schedule a time to get a vaccine.”

How do I sign up?

According to Ballad spokeswoman Ashlea Ramey, patients with established records at a BHMA primary, urgent care or specialty clinic can call their providers if they haven’t already been contacted and think they are eligible.

“We are actively making phone calls and sending emails/text messages to patients in this population,” Ramey said in a statement.

Those who aren’t in that group but are over 75 should watch for the rollout of a scheduling button. That will likely be similar to the section on the website homepage that allows people to enter a portal and begin the signup process for a COVID test appointment.

Ramey said because the PODs are appointment-only and for other logistical reasons, the people running them are preparing for the flow to take just 3-5 minutes per patient once they’re registered.

Ballad plans to have the centers open on Saturdays, Ramey said.

She said the rollout of the Epic electronic medical records platform this year allows Ballad to more easily communicate with its patient population.

“The health department supports more of the general public in this category,” she said.

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