ETSU, Ballad and county EMS partner in COVID-19 surge plan

Brandon Paykamian • Apr 21, 2020 at 6:10 PM

East Tennessee State University is partnering with Ballad Health and Washington County-Johnson City EMS to create a preparedness program in case local health care facilities become overrun with positive COVID-19 cases.

In the event of a massive surge in regional cases, parts of ETSU’s main campus will be available if health care workers exposed to the new virus need to isolate themselves to prevent spreading the illness to their families and others.

In a Tuesday press conference, Ballad CEO Alan Levine said plans like these have been discussed previously with ETSU President Brian Noland as the two entities considered preparedness measures back in the “middle of March.”

“ETSU was gracious enough to offer Ballad and other first responders the use of dormitories in the event we see a surge,” he said, adding that the potential for high exposure rates in Ballad hospitals could create the need for health care workers to isolate themselves.

“We’re grateful that ETSU has offered that; that’s been part of our joint efforts together to plan, and we continue to have ongoing and direct dialogue with ETSU.”

ETSU Chief Operating Officer Jeremy Ross said the university would initially start by allowing access to 50 open rooms in Lucille Clement Hall. He said ETSU will also look at other facilities’ capacity for housing and other medical resources “if there was an outbreak of a large size.”

“We have some abilities, we have beds and we have resources on campus, but we don’t have the number of physicians, nurses and health care workers Ballad does,” Ross said. “So we just agreed to work on this together.”

Ross said the university could arrange to house small numbers of workers by as soon as next week if the need arises.

Ross said he “never thought” ETSU would need to get involved in efforts against a public health crisis with this potential magnitude, but university officials are looking to help prepare the region for “multiple levels of an outbreak.”

“If the outbreak is not large, we don’t need to implement it,” he said. “The need in this region, right now, is not the same as if Ballad’s hospitals are full of people that are infected with COVID-19.”

In addition to partnering with Ballad, ETSU has played a central role in efforts to combat the spread of COVID-19 in the region since the pandemic began. Efforts have included manufacturing over 2,000 face shields for health care workers. The university also recently held medical equipment drives and partnered with the Tennessee Department of Health to host free COVID-19 testing for nearly 830 residents Sunday.

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