Ballad Health preparing for surge; facing nursing shortage across the system

Local Coronavirus Coverage

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Holston Valley, Bristol Regional, and Johnson City Medical Center are refreshing their surge plans and preparing to once again open Covid wards.

“[Sunday], we hit the number we thought we were going to hit in late September,” said Ballad Health CEO Alan Levine. “It’s hard to model the delta variant because we don’t have experience with it yet but it seems to be moving faster than we thought.”

Over the weekend, the system issued an “urgent message” from Levine who said Covid-19 hospitalizations have more than quadrupled since July 4, including some being children in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit.

“When you look at our bed holds, and you look at the surgeries and you look at how many Covid patients, which are incremental visits….how much can you handle? We’re above that number right now,” said Levine.

The national nursing shortage is also hitting the health system.

“Covid patients require a lot more resources, so when you start moving nurses from regular med-surg over to the Covid units, it’s not one-to-one,” said Levine. “Unless we have more nurses, it means that some other part of the hospital has fewer resources.”

Moving around resources has led to longer wait times in the emergency departments.

“If you don’t have enough nurses then what happens is, you staff at those ratios and you try not to stretch them out too much and once they get to a point where they feel it would be unsafe to take more patients, we stop taking patients on that floor,” he explained. “That’s why the emergency rooms get backed up.”

Levine assures that those with the most life-threatening and serious issues will receive the care that they need first but he is anticipating the situation to worsen.

“We’re watching it very closely and we’re consulting with physician leaders throughout the system to determine at what point would we have to start looking at perhaps curtailing some of the elective surgeries,” Levine said. “What that does is it frees up staff and it frees up beds.”

According to Levine, 95% of Covid patients in Ballad hospitals are either unvaccinated or partially vaccinated. He is concerned that the region has hit a “plateau” when it comes to getting the vaccine and is hoping more people will go get the shot.

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