ELIZABETHTON, Tenn. (WJHL) — Carter County’s health and welfare committee passed a resolution Tuesday night hoping to get county leaders to the table with state health and legal officials regarding their concerns about Ballad Health.
County commissioners discussed their own concerns at their Sept. 18 meeting. They also listened to those of numerous residents who said they believe some Ballad decisions centered around Sycamore Shoals Hospital — including the recent closure of its ICU — have negatively impacted the community’s health care.
Ballad has defended its decisions about hospital service lines. In the case of intensive care, it has said patients needing that level of support are better off at the much larger and better-equipped Johnson City Medical Center about seven miles west of Elizabethton.
Last month, the commission overwhelmingly approved a motion that directed county attorney Josh Hardin to draft a resolution expressing their concerns with the hospital system’s management practices and its decisions surrounding Sycamore Shoals. Commissioners Nancy Brown and Angie Odom led that effort.
One topic of discussion was the possibility of county leaders sitting down with representatives from the Tennessee Department of Health and attorney general’s office. Those agencies oversee Ballad, which as an inpatient monopoly must show the state annually that it continues to provide a public advantage over any alternatives.
“The resolution itself is just explaining how we don’t feel, basically a lack of confidence overall of this type of health care and a lack of timely, accessible health care is a way to sum it up,” Odom told News Channel 11 on Tuesday.
Odom and Brown said they want the voices of their constituents to be heard regarding concerns about Ballad Health.
“They’re not being heard at this point,” Brown said. “And everywhere we go, we hear them say, you know, please just speak up for us. So that’s what we’re doing.”
Brown said people want to see Sycamore Shoals grow and “not lose more of its staff or more of its services.”
“We want to see our hospital grow just like the Med Center,” she said.
In a statement before Tuesday’s committee meeting, Ballad said that advantage was clear in the case of Carter County. It pointed back 25 years to what it claimed was Johnson City Medical Center saving Elizabethton’s hospital and building a new medical office building.
Ballad said it had subsidized physicians in Carter County to the tune of $10 million over the past five years and that $2 million of investments at Sycamore Shoals over the past two years have helped set the stage for growth in surgeries there — particularly in orthopedics and oncology.
It said the hospital had 23% more surgeries in the fiscal year that ended June 30 than in the previous year.
“The facts matter,” the statement said. “Commission(er) (Odom) has never spoken with Ballad Health, and has never taken an interest in learning the facts. Nor has she attempted to understand the significance of the nursing shortage faced by America’s hospitals.”
“Notwithstanding these headwinds facing America’s hospitals, we are proud of the support we provide to Sycamore Shoals Hospital, and we remain enormously proud of the care our team members provide to our neighbors in Carter County.”
Odom said she has met with Ballad Health, including Dwayne Taylor, the CEO of Sycamore Shoals Hospital.
“Also speaking with Eric Deaton, Lisa Carter, different ones that came to our meetings, hearing presentations, two and three different times,” Odom said.
“We wouldn’t be fighting for the hospital, if the nurses and the staff wasn’t amazing and so family friendly there, clean good hospital, then we wouldn’t be fighting for it,” Odom said.
At least two state legislators — including Carter County-based Rep. John Holsclaw — have written to commissioners in the past couple of weeks saying they’ll try to help any efforts to get county leaders an audience to air their concerns at the state level.
On Sept. 21, Holsclaw wrote in a letter to “citizens and commissioners of Carter County” that he supports concerns “regarding the insufficient healthcare provided to the community by Ballad Health.” He added that he’d spoken to other representatives and planned to discuss the matter with Tennessee Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Ralph Alvarado.
“Hopefully, we will be able to find a solution to the ongoing issues with Ballad Health,” Holsclaw wrote.
The resolution will go to the full county commission for a final vote later this month.
Commissioners Brown and Odom said they appreciate the workers at Ballad’s hospitals and will include letters from citizens they’ve received in the resolution.
County Mayor Patty Woody did not want to comment Tuesday night, stating that she wants to stay neutral.