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Nathan Baker

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ETSU President Noland: Keep health care local

August 22nd, 2014 11:20 am by Nathan Baker

ETSU President Noland: Keep health care local

ETSU President Brian Noland

The intense discussion centered on the future of health care in the region continued at Thursday’s meeting of the Washington County Economic Development Council, where Mountain States Health Alliance CEO Alan Levine and East Tennessee State University President Brian Noland picked up where Monday night’s Kingsport forum left off.

Invited by the council to speak, Levine outlined the financial strength of his health care system and the benefits of keeping it locally managed, while Noland espoused the opportunities for the university to partner with local health companies for research opportunities.

“The decisions being made about health care in the region aren’t things that can be measured in a one- to five-year return-on-investment; the downstream benefits we can’t even imagine at this point,” Noland said. “What we do know is that by keeping health care locally and by piling resources into research, we have opportunities that would not be present if the decision went in another direction.”

Noland’s comments were similar to those he made Monday at a filled-to-capacity public forum held in Kingsport’s Higher Education Center.

Organized by community and business leaders, the outcome of the forum seemed to lean toward keeping health care under local governing boards, precipitated by Wellmont Health Systems’ ongoing search for a potential merger or partner.

Levine, who declined to comment on his organization’s competitor’s merger search, and physically left the room when the board’s discussion turned to forming a recommendation, did say competition between the two systems regionally has led to a buildup of expensive equipment and duplicated services, a bad feature in the midst of declining patient counts.

“The money we’ve spend and the debt we’ve incurred, that’s all been in the name of competition,” he said. “The reality is, we’ve spent all that money and incurred all that debt. If we continue down that path, there’s a point when that inhibits our ability to pay our debt. ... That’s when we have to start looking at going to a larger system.”

Most recently, Wellmont released a statement saying the search for a potential partner was narrowed to three systems, one regional and the other two from outside the area.

After brief discussion, the WCEDC voted to draft a resolution voicing its support of keeping health care in the region locally managed and encouraging a partnership with ETSU.

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