Monday’s annual meeting of COPA Local Advisory Council all virtual, starts at 6 p.m.


JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – If you have a comment on Ballad Health’s annual report to the Tennessee Department of Health (TDH) or the progress of the Certificate of Public Advantage (COPA) that governs the hospital system, 6 p.m. Monday (Jan. 25) is the time — and the location is completely up to you.

What has been a sometimes tense affair the past two years — the annual meeting of a local committee that guides a few limited elements of Ballad’s COPA — will be conducted virtually due to the COVID pandemic.

The “Local Advisory Council’s” (LAC) third annual meeting will be accessible via a WebEx and also by phone (see details later in this story). Those wishing to provide comments must use the WebEx option.

While its role is limited, one of the nine-member board’s mandates is to conduct the annual hearing “to allow a formal process for the public to comment on the Ballad Health Annual Report and the ongoing performance of Ballad Health,” according to TDH.

Ballad’s fiscal 2020 annual report, submitted in late November, covered a time period from July 2019 through February 2020 due to the pandemic and its impact on hospital system operations.

Last year’s meeting was dominated largely by criticisms from speakers related to Ballad’s decision to close Holston Valley Medical Center’s Level I trauma and neonatal intensive care units.

Then-chair Dennis Phillips noted in the LAC’s annual report that “many of the comments related to individual patient care experiences and were outside the scope of the COPA.”

Then-chair of the LAC Dennis Phillips, right, and council member Dr. Linda Latimer listen during the 2020 annual public hearing.

He added that “there seems to be a general misunderstanding in the community about what issues relate to the COPA and what issues are outside the scope of the COPA.”

The LAC has recommended the focus be on the four primary areas of “public advantage” that are supposed to be enhanced under the merged system as compared to if the COPA had not been granted. Those are:

  • Population health
  • Improving access to health care services
  • Improving health care quality
  • Improving financial stability and performance

Much is different this year as a result of COVID-19. Several requirements under the “Terms of Certification” that govern Ballad’s operation were suspended due to the pandemic, for instance.

Those terms limit and guide Ballad — an exchange for the market power created when Wellmont Health System and Mountain States Health Alliance were allowed to merge and create Ballad three years ago.

As recently as last month, TDH Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey described that market power as a monopoly in response to a series of requests from Ballad:

“When the Department granted the (COPA) to create Ballad Health, the practical effect was to award Ballad a monopoly on inpatient beds.”

This year’s meeting is schedule for 90 minutes and speakers have up to three minutes. They’ll be taken on a first-come, first-served basis, probably by “raising their hands” in the WebEx meeting.

A link to the WebEx is available under the LAC Annual Public Hearing #3 section of the LAC webpage.

The call-in number for phone is in the same section as well but that option does not allow participants to provide public comment.

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