UPDATE: Ballad responds to resolutions objecting to trauma center changes

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BLOUNTVILLE, TN (WJHL) – Sullivan County commissioners passed resolutions Thursday night opposing Ballad Health’s downgrading of trauma centers at two hospitals within the county, the changes to children’s care in Kingsport and the general move to one regional level 1 trauma center.

Leaders at Ballad, which was formed earlier this year from the merger of two other health systems, announced Wednesday that rather than keeping level 1 trauma center designations at Holston Valley Medical Center in Kingsport and Johnson City Medical Center, Ballad would now only have a level 1 trauma center at the Johnson City hospital.

Holston Valley is currently level 1 and Bristol Regional Medical Center is designated as a level 2 trauma center. Both hospitals are in Sullivan County and will be designated as level 3 trauma centers once the plan is implemented within the next year.

Sullivan County Commissioner Hunter Locke was one of the commissioners to sponsor the resolutions.

A longtime first responder at the Kingsport Life Saving Crew, he said these changes are a concern.

“If we lose level one here at Holston Valley, even if we could become a level two instead of a level 3, that would overall be better for patient care inside Sullivan County,” Locke said. “If we are a level three, which they stated we are going to be level three at some time, lives will be lost. I think the mortality rate will go up.”

Other moves announced by the hospital system included Bristol and Kingsport hospitals getting new pediatric trauma emergency departments, while Niswonger Children’s Hospital in Johnson City will become the region’s first pediatric trauma center.

For Danielle Perciful, those are changes she doesn’t agree with.

She said she recently gave birth to her son, Grant, at Holston Valley Medical Center. He had to spend an entire week in the neonatal intensive care unit.

“That’s a risky situation for my son to have gone all the way up there,” Perciful said. “I mean that’s a drive, anything could have happened. 

However, Lisa Carter, ceo of Niswonger Children’s Hospital said this change would allow for more opportunities.

“Combining all these services and really standing up the children’s hospital will afford us the opportunity to bring more sub specialties,” Carter said. 

In response to the county commission’s resolutions, Ballad gave News Channel 11 this statement:

Ballad Health was not informed the County Commission was planning to vote on a resolution, nor were we asked for any information.   So the Commission did not have the benefit of accurate information with which to make this decision.  We appreciate the County Commission’s partnership with Ballad Health, and we look forward to providing accurate information to them about how everyone in our region will benefit from our plans to create a regional coordinated trauma system, establish a pediatric trauma center, open two new children’s emergency departments in Bristol and Kingsport to care for 20,000 annual child visits in Sullivan county, and serve pre-term high-risk infants at the region’s state designated perinatal center.  We are confident these plans will save lives and improve quality of life, and we look forward to sharing the data behind our decisions with the commission.

The healthcare system also said the trauma center changes were not motivated by finances. 

To the contrary. We are spending money on new emergency rooms, new pediatric specialties, new adult specialists, new transport equipment, a medical call center, new protocols for the region for EMS and upgrades to surgical equipment. 

In 2016, before Wellmont and Mountain States Health Alliance merged to form Ballad Health, $2.5 million was put toward expanding the NICU at Holston Valley Medical Center. Now, it’s closing two years later. We asked Ballad if that money will go to waste. They gave us this response:

Our decision to focus all our level III neonatal intensive care (NICU) services at Niswonger Children’s Hospital was based on evidence and recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics, so high-risk newborns can benefit from the expertise provided at the region’s state-designated perinatal center. 

Holston Valley will continue to offer a newborn nursery, which will have the ability to care for babies with minor complications. The planned changes apply only to babies born with serious health issues requiring intensive care. We are maintaining newborn services and nurseries at our hospitals throughout the region. Healthy babies, or babies born with minor complications, will still receive the excellent care they need at our nurseries in Kingsport, Bristol, Johnson City, Greeneville, Abingdon and Wise County, VA. We’ve posted some information on our website, which may be of additional help to you: https://www.balladhealth.org/news/reasoning-behind-planned-nicu-updates  https://www.balladhealth.org/news/new-regional-trauma-emergency-system

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