Ballad Health ramps up vaccination efforts as ‘COVID-19 cases surge’

Local Coronavirus Coverage

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Ballad Health announced Friday that the hospital system was increasing community vaccination efforts as COVID-19 cases increase in the Tri-Cities region.

According to a release from Ballad, part of the efforts will include extending the community vaccination center (CVC) inside the Mall at Johnson City. The CVC will operate during Tennessee’s tax-free weekend on Saturday from noon until 4 p.m.

Vaccines at the site are free to everyone 12 and older, regardless of insurance circumstances. Walk-ins at the CVC are open, and online scheduling is available.

The release states the CVC is opening in part due to a sudden leap in local hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

“The decision to open the CVC comes on the heels of rapid increases in regional COVID-19 cases and the encroaching spread of the Delta variant,” the release states. “On Friday, July 30, Ballad Health recorded 72 COVID-19 inpatients in its hospitals, a considerable leap from the 49 COVID-positive patients receiving care on Friday, July 23, and more than triple the number being treated on July 5.

Additionally, from July 18-24, the health system diagnosed 679 people with COVID-19, marking a 403% increase in weekly cases since mid-June. The region’s testing positivity rate has also climbed to 12.4%, up from 3.4% in early July and a far cry from the 5% goal.”

Ballad Health

Ballad Health Chief Physician Executive Dr. Clay Runnels said he expects those numbers to get even higher.

“It’s the rapid growth in cases that has surprised us over the last three weeks,” Runnels said. “It has grown more rapidly than I think we even projected.”

Runnels said the surge in cases had created difficulty for Ballad hospitals, which are still suffering from the pre-pandemic nurse shortage.

“It’s a struggle to make sure that we maximize the amount of capacity and resources that we have, both bed capacity and primarily human resource capacity,” Runnels said.

Ballad Health reports since March, 95 percent of all COVID-19-related deaths at the hospital system have been people with either no vaccine doses or an incomplete dosage. The release also says 95 percent of COVID-19 patients admitted to Ballad facilities in the last four months have been patients who are either unvaccinated or only partially vaccinated.

“The health system has experienced a significant decline in the number of vaccines administered in its community vaccination center and mobile vaccination clinics,” the release states. “Ballad Health administered 272 first doses and 181 second doses in June, but only 72 first doses and 100 second doses so far in July.”

Runnels said that about 63 percent of Ballad employees are fully vaccinated. He said that is something the region should aspire to.

“I think that should be an example to the community and to people who are on the fence that the people who have the most training in science and research in the community are taking the vaccine at a very high rate,” Runnels said.

After Saturday, the CVC will be open each Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 2-7 p.m.

On Friday, Ballad Health CEO and President Alan Levine posted to Facebook saying hospitalized COVID-19 patients at Ballad facilities had tripled over the last two weeks.

Levine warned patients that they could expect longer emergency room wait times due to the hospital system’s nursing shortage and the extra strain COVID-19 is putting on staff.

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