Noland: ETSU supports Ballad's proposed pediatric, trauma changes

Zach Vance • Updated Feb 6, 2019 at 8:35 PM

East Tennessee State University President Brian Noland said Wednesday the university is fully supportive of Ballad Health’s proposed changes to pediatric and trauma services.

His statement came during a press conference in which Dr. William Block was officially promoted to be dean of the Quillen College of Medicine.

Noland spoke a day before the Certificate of Public Advantage Local Advisory Council will host a 5 p.m. public hearing Thursday on Ballad Health’s financials at Northeast State Community College’s Center for the Arts, 2425 Highway 75, Blountville.

“We are deeply supportive of the directions that Ballad has undertaken to provide regional answers to regional challenges,” Noland said.

“We look forward to working with our partners at Ballad, not only to address issues related to population health, but also to begin moving forward on some of the investments that are part of the COPA.”

In November, Ballad announced it would consolidate Holston Valley Medical Center’s Level III neonatal intensive care unit, or NICU, into Niswonger Children’s Hospital in Johnson City. That plan also calls for creating pediatric emergency rooms in Kingsport and Bristol. 

While the pediatric changes will require state approval, Ballad Health gained pre-approval from the state during the merger process to shift Holston Valley’s trauma center status from a Level I to Level III, a move the hospital system plans to follow through on. 

Both of those changes have been met with considerable public criticism, especially on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

However, that criticism did not deter Noland from making the case for such changes. 

“I think as you look at trauma, one of the things that is unique to this conversation, it is a conversation that is purely bred from regional competition,” Noland said. 

“Yesterday, I was in Nashville, Tennessee. There is one Level I trauma center in Nashville, and it covers an expanse geographically from Kentucky to Alabama. It took me 20 minutes to get from the Capitol to the airport exit.

“Here, in 20 minutes, you’re going to get from Kingsport to a Level I trauma center. You’re going to get from Bristol to a Level I trauma center. So as we look at trauma, it’s not trauma in community A, community B, or community C. It’s how do the collective resources of all of the health care providers across the region develop regional solutions to regional issues.”

Noland said the “exorbitant costs” associated with maintaining two Level I trauma centers and a Level II trauma center are not helping improve the quality of care. Ballad Health CEO Alan Levine has also cited research showing quality of care is improved when trauma centers and NICUs treat more patients.

“As Ballad grows their programs, whether it’s trauma or NICU, there is going to be increased opportunity for both the medical students and the resident physicians in their training programs,” said Block, who served as interim dean of the College of Medicine before Wednesday’s announcement.

“As we have critical mass of patients, we have increased opportunity to see disease processes that we otherwise would have lost out of the region or that we weren’t able to care for before.”

Ballad Health was just one of several subjects Noland touched on, including an update on campus construction projects.

“We are on time, under budget and moving forward with the Culp (Center). This time next year we’ll be back in the building,” Noland said. “We’re also on time with respect to the Martin Center (for the Arts).”

Design work on the Lamb Hall renovations are also underway, with construction expected to begin later this year, the president said.

Noland said he met with Gov. Bill Lee Tuesday in Nashville to discuss some of his higher education agenda items.

“I have a clear sense that he is going to put a major emphasis on rural health, rural education and rural economic development. Well, that’s here, and we’re hopeful that we, as a university, can play a leadership role in the policies that emerge from the governor’s office,” Noland said. 

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