JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Ballad Health had administered about 12,000 of the roughly 14,000 vaccines it had received by Monday night. Now the system hopes to help speed delivery of the pandemic-altering medicines to older people throughout the region.
“It’s gone better than what we had anticipated initially,” Ballad Chief Physician Executive Dr. Clay Runnels told News Channel 11 late Monday.
“We’ve been very effective at not keeping vaccine on the shelves and putting it in arms and very focused on that 1a1 and 1a2 group which are our health care workers in the region,” Runnels said.
With many “1a1” and “1a2” health workers covered at this point Runnels and Ballad Chief Operating Officer Eric Deaton said the system is creating several points of delivery (PODs) for people over 75.
What Ballad hadn’t yet told News Channel 11 by 6 p.m. broadcast time was how soon it expects more vaccine doses to boost its own quickly-dwindling supply.
As they receive those doses they’ll use a model that’s been successful at five PODs — in Johnson City, Kingsport, Bristol, Abingdon, Va. and Norton, Va. — that have been the site of thousands of 1a vaccinations.
“Everyone from our registration to those people that provide the vaccine to those who were watching the patients to make sure there was no reaction, they’ve all been right on point and have been very committed to this and done a great job with that throughput,” Deaton said.
The extent of Ballad’s role in the total vaccination count in Northeast Tennessee can’t be completely determined, but the region’s vaccination percentages through Monday remained among the best in the state. Washington County had by far the highest percentage among any large counties and ranked fourth overall out of Tennessee’s 95 counties at 4.76%.
The region’s overall 3.48% mark was close to 50% above the statewide rate of 2.34%.
The goal is to help supplement and augment the county and regional health departments’ efforts to vaccinate that group.
“We really want to lean into it and be good partners with the health department who will be driving the community vaccination model,” Runnels said. “So we’re here for them to help them and to help the community as much as possible and for as long as we can and as long as they want us to be in that game.”
Ballad certainly needs to be in the game right now, Deaton said. He and other Ballad leaders have frequent phone meetings with health departments in their Tennessee and Virginia market area.
In Tennessee the shift to “1b” people — the elderly — has been fraught with overloaded phone lines, and as of Tuesday, no availability of vaccines.
“The health departments are doing a good job, but you know, you just can’t handle that volume,” Deaton said. “We’re just trying to help be a valve to kind of decompress some of that and support them the very best we can.”
To avoid the kind of chaos that has ensued at some health department sites, Ballad is beginning the 1b rollout by contacting people who are existing patients of its outpatient arm, Ballad Health Medical Associates.
And the system isn’t publicizing those POD sites yet as it determines how best to schedule a population whose successful vaccination is critical for them and for the hospital system.
“The point here is getting as many people vaccinated as possible,” Deaton said. “And we want to start with that age group that is the most vulnerable, which is the older patients and the patients that have the co-morbid conditions that can create a really severe illness out of this.”
Deaton said Ballad has some self-interest in seeing as many vulnerable people as possible vaccinated, noting its second straight day of a record COVID hospitalization count.
“Getting our census down to where it’s more manageable, it’s not so overwhelming to our system and creating burnout for our team members,” he said.
The X factors to Ballad’s being able to help from here are twofold — how quickly the system can procure additional doses and the health departments’ interest in figuring out a system whereby Ballad can help meet the demand.
News Channel 11 requested information from Ballad about whether and when it expected to receive further vaccine shipments. We asked how those are procured and what companies they’ll come from (the first batch was Pfizer).
Additional requests were how Ballad would reach those over 75s — whether through total coordination with the health departments, through outbound calls or a hotline, or even letting health department overflow calls roll to a Ballad number.
As of 6 p.m. broadcast time Ballad personnel were still working on getting those answers.