JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Ballad Health CEO Alan Levine announced on Wednesday a second refrigerator morgue truck has been ordered for the Tri-Cities region as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

Levine said during a news briefing that the region is in a “hopeful but grim phase in this pandemic.”

Levine said the hopeful side comes thanks to the promising news of COVID-19 vaccines, which will be taken as a series of injections to provide immunity.

On the grim side, Levine pointed out the recent rise in hospitalizations across the Ballad Health system.

“Our numbers in the hospitals are at all-time highs, and based on our modeling which unfortunately has proven to be very accurate, we anticipate that we could see volumes as high as 550 by the end of December,” Levine said.

Chief Administrative Officer Eric Deaton also reported that 17% of patients who are hospitalized at Ballad hospitals with COVID-19 are dying.

A second refrigerator morgue truck has been ordered for Kingsport, Levine said on Wednesday.

Photo: WJHL

“That’s an unsightly thing for people to see and a very uncomfortable thing to talk about, but the reality is we don’t have the capacity for what we anticipate we will need. So we need to get some additional capacity for the storage of bodies,” Levine said.

Levine also announced Ballad Health will suspend elective surgeries starting on Monday, December 7. That includes surgeries already scheduled.

As of Wednesday, Ballad Health does not plan to furlough any of its employees as it did closer to the start of the pandemic in March.

Team members were asked to support the system if they were asked to redeploy within the Ballad system. Some of that redeployment could involve using lower licensed or even unlicensed staff to support clinical teams in the hospitals.

Levine also encouraged all Ballad Health team members and members of the community to get the flu vaccine.

You can watch the entire Ballad Health news briefing on our WJHL Facebook page below.