KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL)- Traveling from Colonial Heights to the Niswonger Children’s Network Pediatric Emergency Room in Johnson City feels like a lifetime if your child is critically ill. Luckily for many, Indian Path Community Hospital in Kingsport offers a closer-to-home option.

“When I first came here, I liked it because when I felt sick and hurt, it was the first time I had been here and usually we take such a long drive before this came,” said nine-year-old Icess Hendrickson.

Icess is like any other third-grader. She loves math, is in horse therapy and has big goals of one day becoming the president. So having care for her epilepsy at the Niswonger Pediatric Emergency Department at Indian Path Hospital, close to home in Kingsport, has been a game changer.

“I have been driving in the car, with her in the car seat on the way to get to the hospital. We would have to have her transported by ambulance sometimes to Johnson City,'” said Icess’ mom, Alicia Hendrickson.

Being close to care is crucial in dire situations.

“We see a lot of patients from Southwest Virginia, even Kentucky, down into Church Hill, Rogersville. It’s a little bit closer for them to come even if we do end up having to transfer them to a higher level of care,” said Indin Path Nurse Practitioner Lauren Cullins. “We can see these patients and stabilize them and support them through that journey.”

Having a level of critical care just for kids is something Kingsport didn’t have until October of 2022.

“We worked not only with folks at Ballad, we had folks in the community, we had our physicians, we had nurses and community leaders all at the table determining what’s the best service and what could we provide for our kids,” said Dwight Owens, the Administrator and Chief Operating Officer at Indian Path Hospital. “This was part of that strategy was this pediatric emergency room.”

The four-bed emergency department is part of the Niswonger Children’s Network of doctors and services across the region.

“All they have to do is type my baby’s name in and there’s all her information. I don’t have to say ‘contact this doctor, contact that doctor,’ it’s all right here,” Hendrickson said. “So, that makes it easy, easy for me. “

Being a tight-knit part of the Niswonger Children’s Network also helps build relationships with staff, especially for children that need consistent care.

“Icess is special,” Owens said. “Her mom looked at me and said ‘You know, I’m so happy that we were able to come here because we live here in Kingsport and get the care we needed without having to make the trip to Johnson City.’ That means a lot to us. “

The enhanced level of care and closeness means the world to the most important patients.

“It’s the best here. It’s the best, I love it here. They’re super nice,” said Icess.

More than 2,500 patients and their families have been cared for in the six months since the pediatric emergency department at Indian Path Community Hospital opened.