UPDATE: Tennessee officially grants COPA to Ballad Health

Zach Vance • Updated Jan 31, 2018 at 3:52 PM

Tennessee Department of Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner announced Wednesday that Mountain States Health Alliance and Wellmont Health System were officially granted a Certificate of Public Advantage, permitting the two entities to merge into Ballad Health.

“Clearly a great deal of work on the part of all involved has gone into this groundbreaking result. We can be proud of the thoughtful, deliberate, transparent and community-accountable process it has been, one I know we all look forward to continuing,” Dreyzehner said in a press release.

“Our job as the state was to determine whether a merger of the two systems could create a clear public benefit to the people of this wonderful and vibrant region, a responsibility we took and will continue to take very seriously as we enter this next exciting and important phase.”

Now the process of getting approval to merge in both Tennessee and Virginia is complete, a Mountain States spokesperson confirmed.

“We have received issuance of the COPA from the state of Tennessee. The process in both states is now complete, and we’re excited to take the next steps together as Ballad Health,” the statement said.

“We are grateful for the hard work both states have done, and we will have more to share about the official launch of Ballad Health after we have had an opportunity to communicate with our team members and physicians. We’ll be releasing more information on our launch tomorrow.”

Before Tennessee and Virginia would allow the region’s two largest hospital systems to merge, Mountain States and Wellmont had to prove that a merger would create a public benefit to Tri-Cities residents, ultimately outweighing the disadvantages of monopolized services.

Federal Trade Commission staff members, who have often argued the merger’s benefits would not outweigh the disadvantages, estimated Ballad Health would control 71 percent of inpatient services in the region if the merger was approved.

Tennessee Department of Health officials and the state Attorney General’s office helped guide Mountain States and Wellmont through the unprecedented, and at times convoluted, process.

“TDH worked with the applicants and the Attorney General’s Office to create an index that outlines benchmarks linked to improving key health outcomes and maintaining access to and quality of health care in the region,” the press release announcing the COPA stated.

“The index includes recommendations from the COPA Index Advisory Group, which was made up of 16 people from the region and which held five listening sessions and subsequent working meetings in the spring of 2016.”

State health officials will actively supervise Ballad Health to ensure the health system follows through on all commitments and meets various thresholds, outlined in a Terms of Certification document both parties agreed on.

Reported earlier: 

Mountain States Health Alliance announced two leadership changes Wednesday in anticipation of the Ballad Health hospital merger being finalized. 

Stan Hickson has been named CEO of Washington County operations, while John Jeter was appointed CEO of Johnston Memorial Hospital in Abingdon, Virginia. 

The changes were in response to the departure of Melody Trimble, who has overseen Washington County operations since 2014.

“Melody is a devoted and passionate leader whose accomplishments during her tenure have been exhaustive,” said Alan Levine, president and chief executive officer of Mountain States. “Under her leadership, our hospitals have achieved outstanding quality results and brought new services to the region that were not previously available. Melody is a friend and someone whose integrity and work ethic is without compromise. She will be missed.”

A press release announcing the change did not specify why Trimble left her position. 

Since 2016, Hickson has served as CEO of Mountain States’ northeast operating division, in addition to CEO of Johnston Memorial Hospital. The northeast operating division includes all operations in Abingdon, Marion and Lebanon Virginia, including Smyth County Community Hospital and Russell County Medical Center.

“I have been honored to work with the leaders and team members at Mountain States, and I’m incredibly proud of all we’ve accomplished in the Washington County market,” said Trimble.

The leadership shakeup comes on the same day Mountain States is expected to officially close on a long-awaited merger with Wellmont Health System.

In anticipation of the deal’s closure, hospital officials have scheduled a Friday press conference regarding Ballad Health, the new name of the merged hospital system.

Last week, an official Ballad Health page emerged on social media sites Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. 

More information regarding the merger is expected to be released Wednesday. 

Keep checking www.JohnsonCityPress.com for updates related to the merger.