Ballad Health hospital leaders discuss transition for NICU care

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JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – News Channel 11 is learning more about the timeline of Ballad Health’s Neonatal Intensive Care consolidation plans.

Wednesday – the Tennessee Department of Health approved the plans – which will impact hundreds of families across our region.

Those plans will result in the closure of the NICU at Holston Valley Medical Center.

Care for the youngest and most critically ill patients will take place at Niswonger Children’s Hospital in Johnson City.

The state recommended Ballad Health take extra measures to help families cover travel expenses and costs.

News Channel 11 spoke with two Ballad Health hospital leaders about how they plan to follow the state’s recommendations.

Tennessee’s Commissioner of Health Lisa Piercey said after her review – the benefits of this consolidation significantly outweigh the disadvantages.

She did mention some drawbacks such as travel time – that Ballad health leaders tell us they plan to address.

“When the decision came through it was almost surreal because it’s like okay, so now we have a direction and we’re going to move forward,” Niswonger Children’s Hospital CEO Lisa Carter said.

After a six month long wait – Ballad Health hospital leaders said they can now move forward with their NICU consolidation plans while supporting families and employees.

“Our transition plan is to ensure that we best understand what those gaps are for the families during this transition,” Ballad Health Kingsport CEO Lindy White said.

Transition teams are already at work.

“We’re looking at delivery services in Kingsport and what that coverage looks like for those deliveries. We’ve got a transport team project that will stand up to ensure the timeliness of transports of babies,” Carter said.

In Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey’s statement of approval – she notes the most obvious drawback is increased travel time and inconvenience for NICU families.

Piercey recommends that Ballad consider additional dedicated travel funds such as gas cards, meal allowances, etc. for the approximately 100 NICU families each year that will be affected by this consolidation.

“Currently we have families that apply for that financial assistance and we do that right now, so we’ll just make sure that standard work is in place,” Carter went on to say “There obviously will be families who will have to travel that have chosen Holston Valley in the past, but again, working through the transportation, working through how we support them from a family centered care perspective, is what we’ll make sure they’re apart of moving forward.”

Hospital leaders said the consolidation will improve the quality of care.

“The NICU at Niswonger Children’s Hospital has had a census in the teens, as has the NICU at Holston Valley, so that really does just dilute the care, whereas if you combine that care, you can absolutely have the best competency, you can have the best safety, and you can have the best quality,” Carter said.

Ronald McDonald house leaders said they’re always ready to serve families near and far.

“It could effect us as far as the number of families that we have, most definitely could see an influx of families coming to stay,” Tina Ison of the Ronald McDonald House said.

As far as jobs go at Holston Valley Medical Center – White tells us if employees wish to care for NICU babies, they’re going to have a guaranteed spot at Niswonger Children’s Hospital.

Carter said additional space does not need to be added to Niswonger because of the consolidation.

The NICU consolidation is set to be complete by the end of this year.

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