Mayor defends himself, Ballad at spirited BMA meeting

Matthew Lane • Apr 3, 2019 at 8:57 AM

KINGSPORT — Mayor John Clark fiercely defended himself during Tuesday night's Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting, taking issue with recent comments made about him on social media in posts about Ballad Health and the proposed changes to Holston Valley Medical Center.

For months now, members of the Rally in the Valley movement — a group of local residents opposed to the changes at HVMC — have attended a number of BMA meetings, asking city leaders to issue a resolution against these changes.

Every time, the BMA has listened and thanked the speakers for their comments, but they've not passed any resolutions regarding Ballad.

And chances are that's not going to happen.

At the end of the BMA's regular meeting Tuesday night, the mayor addressed a number of questions posed by merger opponents and comments made about him recently on social media.

“I've been called a racist, that I don't like strong women and people have attacked my Cuban heritage. I've been slandered for weeks on social media because I have a different view on the Ballad merger,” Clark said. “For the past 25 years, I've worked for all residents. I resent your comments. You do not know me or my family.”

Clark also shared his personal views about the whole issue, saying he believes a majority of Kingsport residents support the merger and the consolidation plan. Clark said he trusts the physicians, the business leaders, large manufacturers, Ballad’s four Kingsport-based board members and the states of Tennessee and Virginia who support the merger.

“What’s the alternative? To trust and follow a community organizer from another state who uses social media to attract followers and oppose the merger,” he said.

Following Clark’s comments, members of the audience again spoke out on the issue, asking the BMA to be a voice for the public and pass a resolution opposing the changes to Holston Valley. The discussion eventually became a back and forth between the audience and the BMA and lasted for more than 90 minutes.

Dani Cook, one of the most vocal opponents of the changes and the “community organizer” referenced by Clark, said people have a right to adequate health care and believes Kingsport is the center of our region for our health care system.

“I have said I feel discriminated against when I stand at this podium, spoken to in a condescending manner, and I don’t get that treatment anywhere else,” Cook said. “If anyone wants to sit down and discuss ... I’m readily available. What will not happen is for someone to demean or talk down to me in any shape or form.

“From my very first day here, I’m not going away or backing down, and I’ll continue to fight for what is right.”

Priscilla Redwine, who worked at Holston Valley for more than 40 years, said she understands the financial situation with the hospitals but believes Wellmont’s merger with Mountain States was the biggest mistake and resulted in a total monopoly for our region.

“If you don’t like working for Ballad, there’s no other choice,” Redwine said. “And I don’t think a majority of residents are in favor of this merger. I would have been fine with an out-of-town system taking over.”

“I've not come across one single person who feels the citizens of Kingsport have been best served by this merger,” said Lisa Rice, a registered nurse since 1981.

Clark said he would be speaking with the four Kingsport-based board members of Ballad about the operational issues at Holston Valley, along with sharing the comments expressed during Tuesday's meeting.

Cook said she was asking the BMA to simply speak up, that it might influence the state to take a harder look at the COPA.

Alderwoman Colette George, who opposed the merger, said the options at that time were not good.

“I don't agree with the situation or am happy where we’re at, but we had the opportunity four years ago to speak out,” George said. “I don’t like this community divided. I’ve had my health threatened because of what they thought my views were. This is the boat we’re in right now, and we need to work to ensure Ballad can provide the best health care for this region.”