JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Ballad Health has launched its trauma network system that works to coordinate care between regional trauma centers, EMS services, emergency departments and community physicians.

Johnson City Medical Center is a level 1 trauma center that has a trauma doctor present at all times. According to Ballad Health’s website, it has full range of surgical services to treat injuries anywhere on someone’s body.

Bristol Regional Medical Center and Holston Valley Medical Center are level 3 trauma centers. Those centers provide stabilization, resuscitation, surgery and intensive care, according to Ballad Health. The level 3 centers can transfer patients to a trauma level 1 center if needed.

President and CEO of Ballad Health Alan Levine says this plan has been in the works for several years now.

“We’ve invested in a central communications platform,” said Levine. “We’ve invested in regional protocols and coordination with every EMS throughout the region. So no matter where you are, if there’s an injury, the most important thing is that initial assessment and then getting you to the right place.”

Bracken Burns is the trauma medical director at Johnson City Medical Center and a professor of surgery at ETSU Health. He says the launch of the trauma network is recognizing the progression they’ve made.

“Our care in the area was what I would call siloed in the past, in that we had trauma centers that didn’t necessarily coordinate and work together,” said Burns. “And we didn’t partner as well as we could have with our community surgeons, our community emergency departments and our EMS partners. And so what we’ve really done over the last several years is work on those relationships and coordinating care so that the care people get, regardless of where their injury happens, is excellent from the beginning. Whether that requires transfer to a trauma center or not.”

Norton Police Chief James Lane was shot in the line of duty in May 2021. He received care from Ballad Health, which utilized coordination between different medical centers and EMS services.

“Norton Rescue Squad transported me from the scene to Norton Community Hospital emergency room,” said Chief Lane. “I was stabilized there. Then I was put on a helicopter to be flown to Johnson City Hospital. And that’s where, again, I was reevaluated in the emergency room and then taken into surgery.”

Chief Lane is still receiving rehabilitation services, which is a part of the trauma network’s coordinated care. He said he’s very appreciative of the encouragement and care that he received from medical staff.

“It was crucial for my recovery to know that I had the support not only of family, friends, coworkers–but also the staff that was treating me,” Lane said. “They were there when I had a question about something that we were doing or what was the next step. They were there explaining it to me.”

Burns told News Channel 11 that the coordinated efforts to stabilize patients before being transferred are crucial. He says it played a major part in Chief Lane’s recovery.

“Within the pilot network, having those emergency departments prepared to stabilize acutely injured patients can be the difference between life and death, and having the opportunity to make it to a trauma center to maybe receive more definitive or more specialized care,” said Burns. “But that stop at that outside facility, much like Chief Lane’s story, was paramount to the success of his recovery.”

Levine said he believes that health care shouldn’t be isolated to one certain area.

“Health care doesn’t follow county lines or boundaries,” said Levine. “It’s regional. It has to be regionalization of trauma, regionalization of high acuity care for newborns, regionalization of intensive care services. Every hospital doesn’t have a neurosurgery program. You don’t do neurosurgery everywhere. You do it where you have the most support for that service in that specialty.”

Levine says that evidence from peer-reviewed studies supports healthcare networks like this.

“Having multiple level 1 trauma centers dilutes your supply of physicians and staff,” said Levine. “And then you end up with lower volumes, which doesn’t lead to better outcomes. All of the evidence, all of the peer-reviewed studies over decades has said trauma care is best delivered in fewer higher-volume centers where you have more experience, more volume, you have a greater breadth of specialties to support the patients.”

Burns says that Ballad’s trauma network has the ability to influence care by working with outside providers.

“We have the ability to influence care by sharing things like our order sets with outside providers,” said Burns. “So they see what type of orders we would order on an acute trauma at a level one center, and they can mimic that at whatever hospital they’re at. We go out specifically and do outreach courses with them that allows them to tell us what their needs are so that we can better meet their needs, because if the care is not exceptional at an outside facility, then that’s going to influence the care when they get to definitive care if they need it.”

Johnson City Medical Center is the only level 1 trauma center in the region.