After Ballad Health announced a temporary pause on admissions at Hawkins County Memorial Hospital in July of 2020, admissions will resume on Jan. 1, 2021, beginning at 8 a.m.
Ballad Health officials announced the change in a Dec. 31 press release and noted that the decision to resume admissions was made “to provide additional staffed hospital beds to serve the region, and to support the surge of inpatient volume at Holston Valley Medical Center.”
“Ballad Health suspended medical admissions at Hawkins County Memorial in July to redeploy team members to staff COVID-19 units at Holston Valley,” the release also explained.
Redeployed team members will return to their normal work assignments at Hawkins Memorial at 8 a.m. on Jan. 1. The hospital’s emergency department and all other outpatient services will continue regular operations.
The issue of the temporary pause on admissions caused much controversy among local elected officials at the time and was a topic of conversation at many municipal meetings.
Hawkins County EMS Director Jason Murrell was outspoken at the time and told the Commission’s Public Safety Committee that the decision created an increased work load for his department.
“The concern from commissioners has been that Hawkins EMS has only one unit available in the county at times,” Murrell told the Committee. “This concern will be more frequent, and the chances of having no ambulances available will increase with the changes that are being implemented.”
In fact, he estimated at the time an increase in call volume of around 193 transports per month, based on previous year and year-to-date data.
“This means that ambulances will be out of service during transport to out-of-county hospitals more frequently and for longer times,” he said.
At that same meeting, Hawkins EMA Director Jamie Miller told the Committee “I feel like, even during this pandemic, that’s sad and unfortunate for this county. That hospital has been in operation since 1962.”
Hawkins Co. Mayor Jim Lee also cited Ballad’s changes as part of the reason he implemented a county-wide mask mandate that began on July 17.
“Ballad Health has put East Tennessee Mayors in a very complicated and controversial situation,” he said when he announced the mandate. “We had a wonderful hospital in Hawkins County with a great staff and best care you could get. We have lost a level 1 trauma center within an hour of the majority of the county, we have lost a helicopter in our fleet of available aircraft, and now we have lost the ability for patients to be hospitalized locally in Hawkins and Hancock County. The reason Ballad Health has trouble with staffing is they cannot retain staff. All this means is more work for our EMS, which is already struggling to survive.”
The mandate was allowed to expire on Sept. 29, as Lee opted not to renew it. Instead, he simply encouraged citizens to continue wearing face masks.
“When the original face covering order went into effect, our hospital system was in crisis,” Lee said in a Facebook post at the time. “The alarming growth in cases across the Tri-Cities was pushing hospital capacity to the limit, and our mask requirement was part of efforts in communities across the state to get that situation under control. It worked. As we enter flu season, COVID-19 remains active and potentially dangerous. Please remember that we are not out of the woods yet…It remains the civic responsibility of each person in Hawkins County to continue protecting others and themselves by taking extra care of the vulnerable population, staying home when possible and certainly when sick, by practicing good hand hygiene, and by wearing masks around other people.”