Sullivan Commission objects to Ballad's trauma plan

J. H. Osborne • Nov 16, 2018 at 9:25 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — The Sullivan County Commission voted Thursday to voice its objection to Ballad Health’s decision to downgrade the Holston Valley and Bristol Regional emergency rooms to Level Three trauma centers. Holston Valley is currently a Level One trauma center and Bristol is currently a Level Two center.

Ballad announced a day earlier that Johnson City Medical Center’s emergency room would retain its Level One trauma center, while the other two hospitals would drop to Level Three trauma centers.

The resolution, sponsored by Commissioners Hunter Locke and Mark Vance, was drafted during a 20-minute recess at the end of the commission’s regular monthly agenda. The vote didn’t occur until about 10:15 p.m. The resolution garnered enough votes to gain approval on first reading under waiver of the rules. The vote was 20 in favor, three opposed and one absent. Those who voted no sought to defer action on the issue and instead seek discussion with Ballad Health officials.

Commissioner Colette George said she wasn’t happy about the downgrades, but she urged deferral, citing a need to develop a positive working relationship between the county and Ballad.

“Once we pass this, there’s no reason for them to come speak to us,” George said, describing passage of the resolution as “starting off on the wrong foot.”

George said Ballad will be making a lot of decisions and she’d like for the county to “be on their good side.”

But supporters of the resolution said that Ballad officials had made no attempt to seek input from county officials before announcing the decision and that time is of the essence.

“This is about the care and welfare of the citizens of the county,” Commissioner Mark Vance said.

Some said Ballad’s decision was based on money, not the community’s best health interests.

”It don’t need to be just about the all-mighty dollar,” Vance said. “Because you can’t put a price on a person’s life.”

The issue became a topic after Dr. Mickey Spivey spoke to the commission and voiced his concerns about the downgrades in trauma level status at Holston Valley and Bristol.

Spivey has years of experience as an emergency room doctor and is the medical director of the Kingsport Fire Department and Kingsport Lifesaving Crew. 

Spivey said the downgrades will “put at risk” the region’s residents.

“Timely access is critical,” Spivey said, noting later that under emergency response regulations a patient with injuries classified as requiring Level One treatment must be transported to a Level One trauma care facility. So, if a car wreck victim on Stone Drive had a blood pressure less than 90, after the downgrade of Holston Valley the crash victim would have to be transported to Johnson City.

The commission also approved a resolution objecting to the closure of a neo-natal intensive care unit at Holston Valley.

The commission’s meeting — its first since moving from daytime meetings to evening meetings — was ongoing at 10:40 p.m.



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