Ballad to add nursing staff at Niswonger NICU

Brandon Paykamian • Updated Aug 3, 2019 at 10:28 PM

Niswonger Children’s Hospital expects to serve an average of eight additional babies per day after Ballad Health consolidates the highest-risk Neonatal Intensive Care Unit services at the Johnson City location.

Many NICU services at Kingsport’s Holston Valley Medical Center’s will transition to Niswonger by Sept. 1. The company noted most infants will still be delivered in Kingsport, but babies that require certain NICU services will have to go to the Palmer Family Birth Center at Niswonger, where “they will have access to a full complement of pediatric subspecialty services that are not available anywhere else in the region.”

Niswonger CEO Lisa Carter said the highest-risk infant patients delivered at other Ballad facilities will be transported to the Level 3 NICU at Niswonger by the Neonatal Transport Team.

All Holston Valley NICU nurses and team members will continue their employment with Ballad Health once the transition occurs, and an advanced neonatal care team will remain in the Kingsport market to assist with any babies born with unexpected complications.

“Obviously, even (some) high-risk cases will be cared for in Kingsport. It will depend on the level of care that the obstetrician and perinatologist anticipate for the baby, so if the baby will need higher, acute-level care upon delivery, then those deliveries will be in Johnson City,” she said. “But some high-risk and all low-risk patients will still remain in Kingsport.”

Carter said Ballad officials worked to determine whether Niswonger’s NICU had the space to take care of more infants with increased staffing levels.

She said the consolidated unit will be able to increase the quality of care and attract more “higher-caliber physicians.”

“That was one of the reasons for the consolidation because we recognized the volume in the Holston Valley NICU was low, and obviously, you want to ensure quality and have high-level specialists to take care of those babies,” Carter said. “By consolidating that volume, we’ll be able to maintain subspecialty services in Johnson City.

“Any time you fragment care and segregate, you’re not going to be able to do as many things with it,” she added. “And it will decrease costs. That was one thing we talked about. ‘How can we provide care more efficiently and effectively?’”

Carter said she’s heard “a lot of discussion” about the plan, whether it’s safe or if it’s an effective model. She said she believes it is, despite some controversy and protests against the move.

“We have worked diligently over the past several months to ensure we have appropriate delivery coverage in Kingsport and appropriate transport services,” she said. “The vast majority of nurses that work in the NICU are going to stay in the Kingsport market to assist with caring for babies at delivery, so we have built a safe and effective model for delivery services in Kingsport.”

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