ROGERSVILLE — The first of a proposed series of “hospital authority informational meetings” was held Thursday evening, Dec. 5, in Rogersville.
Organizers of the forum said that a region-wide hospital authority is needed to give area residents an official voice in how hospital care is delivered in the Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia area in which Ballad Health has a virtual “medical monopoply” in hospital care.
If the regional hospital authority is formed by the local governments of the counties served by Ballad Health, the authority would replace Ballad Health’s board of directors, according to speaker Dani Cook.
Ballad Health currently operates Hawkins Co. Memorial Hospital in Rogersville and Holston Valley Medical Center in Kingsport, in addition to hospitals in Sneedville, Greeneville, Johnson City, Elizabethton and Bristol. It also operates several hospitals in Soutwest Virginia.
Ballad Health is the name of the company formed after Welmont Health System and Mountain States Health Alliance merged.
During the Thursday evening meeting, Cook told the autience that the proposed new hospital authority will not seek to undo the merger that created Ballad Health and would work with Ballad Health to ensure delivery of quality health care at area hospitals.
Current state law in Tennessee requires areas that form hosptial authorities to have a population of at least 200,000. Meeting organizers said all the counties served by Ballad Health hospitals in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia have a combined population of about 700,000 people.
By forming a multi-county hospital authority, area local governments should be able to exceed the 200,000 population limit for forming a hospital authority, it was stated.
Elected officials from Hawkins, Sullivan, Greene, Carter, Hancock and other counties served by Ballad Health had been invited to attend the Thursday evening meeting in Rogersville. But only four Hawkins County commissioners and one Sullivan County commissioner attended.
The Hawkins Co. Commission was praised by meeting organizers for having passed a resolution opposing the merger of Welmont Health Sytem and Mountain States Health Alliance that created Ballad Health.
It was unclear if any mayors or aldermen from Hawkins County’s incorporated municipalities attended the meeting.
No one at the meeting identified themselves as representing Ballad Health.
Organizers of the Thursday meeting have been “peacefully protesting” Ballad Health’s moving of a neonatal unit that treats premature infants from Holston Vally Medical Center to the Johnson City Medical Center and downgrading the “trauma center” at Holston Valley Medical Center.
As of Thursday, organizers said, the protest has been ongoing on public property outside Holston Valley Medical Center for 218 days.
The meeting drew about 65 people to the auditorium of Holston Electric Cooperative on West Main Street.
During a comment period, Hawkins Co. Commissioner Danny Alvis said he was present to “listen and learn”.
The other commissioners present did not offer public comment.