Tenn. Dept. of Health approves Ballad’s NICU consolidation request

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Ballad Health’s plan to reorganize and consolidate neonatal health care in the Tri-Cities region took a key step forward with approval from the Tennessee Department of Health Wednesday. 

Last November, Ballad Health announced sweeping changes to trauma care at each of the three major medical centers in the Tri-Cities

In those changes, Ballad proposed a consolidation plan for neonatal services. But those changes required state approval. 

According to a statement from TDH commissioner Lisa Piercey, Ballad Health has the approval to maintain Level III neonatal intensive care unit or NICU services in Johnson City while changing Holston Valley Medical Center’s NICU services to Level I. 

The statement also pointed out there are drawbacks to the changes, the biggest being travel time and other travel related inconveniences for families.

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Piercey recommends Ballad consider additional dedicated travel funds, on top of what they already offer, like gas cards and meal allowances for around 100 NICU families each year. 

Ballad is also encouraged to offer individualized placement services and employment counseling for staff members affected by the changes. 

In a statement to News Channel 11, Ballad Health said:

We appreciate the diligent work from the Department of Health to evaluate our Level III NICU proposal, and we believe they made their decision based on what is best for patients.  We agree with and will implement their additional recommendations. Improving outcomes for our most vulnerable children and their mothers is our top priority, and we will continue to work with physicians and nursing staff to provide exceptional women’s and children’s care in Kingsport and the region.”

The Tennessee Attorney General’s Office also released a statement regarding the Ballad NICU request:

The Attorney General’s office supports the decision by Tennessee Department of Health (TDH) Commissioner Lisa Piercy to approve Ballad Health’s request to consolidate neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) services. This was not an easy decision. The Commissioner and the Ballad Board of Directors engaged in a thorough and objective analysis weighing the impact of realignment with the goal of enhancing quality of care and improving patient outcomes for the community.

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