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Tennessee Department of Health approves Ballad NICU consolidation

Johnson City Press • Updated May 1, 2019 at 2:00 PM

Tennessee Department of Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey has approved Ballad Health’s request to consolidate Holston Valley Medical Center’s neonatal intensive care unit from a Level III to a Level I nursery.

“In objectively weighing the pros and the cons of consolidating NICU services, it is my opinion that the benefits of doing so significantly outweigh the detriments,” a statement from Piercey on Wednesday said. 

“Guided by the well established standards of regionalized perinatal care, I find the most notable benefit of the consolidation to be the enhancement in quality of care and patient outcomes, secondary to higher patient volumes, sufficient physician coverage and timely specialist access. The consolidation plan ensures adequate bed capacity, robust transport capabilities and marked financial improvement from system efficiencies.”

Piercey also noted there will be drawbacks to Ballad’s realignment of neonatal intensive care unit services, with the most obvious being increased travel time and inconvenience for NICU families. 

“Currently, Ballad offers onsite lodging at the Ronald McDonald House in Johnson City and makes transportation grant funds available through its foundation,” Piercey said. 

“I recommend that Ballad consider additional dedicated travel funds such as gas cards, meal allowances, etc. for the approximately 100 NICU families each year that will be affected by this consolidation. Additionally, for any staff members whose work location may be adjusted as a result of the transition, I recommend that Ballad Health offer individualized placement services and employment counseling to minimize the impact of this change.”

During this transition, Piercey said it will be important for Ballad to communicate “clearly with its affected workforce, medical staff, patient base and community, as well as keeping the department informed of any notable events or issues throughout the process. 

“As a parent, I also know firsthand the stressors of having a baby in the NICU. Three of my four children were NICU babies who experienced prolonged stays due to prematurity, so I personally understand the significance of this decision,” the statement from the commissioner said.

Ballad Health issued the following statement in response:

“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.”

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