Ballad temporarily pauses overnight admissions and elective procedures at Hawkins and Hancock hospitals due to COVID-19

Due to the recent rise in local COVID-19 cases, Ballad Health has implemented a temporary pause on all overnight admissions and elective procedures at both Hawkins County Memorial Hospital and Hancock County Hospital.

Lindy White, who is President of the Northwest Market for Ballad Health, told the Review that this is part of the “trigger surge plan” that is being implemented due to the recent increase in the number of local COVID-19 cases.

In fact, White noted that the number of COVID-19 cases in the region has tripled just since last week.

She also was very clear to note that neither Hawkins or Hancock hospitals are closing.

The emergency rooms at both hospitals will remain open, and there will be no change to the out-patient services offered on the premise of those hospitals.

EMS Director Jason Murrell told the Public Safety Committee on Wednesday, however, that this will affect his department, as the number of transfers from Hancock and Hawkins hospitals will increase.

As a result, he asked the committee to urgently consider financially supporting his department.

“If there was ever a time to support us, it is now,” he said.

ER to remain fully operational

“Our ER’s are going to remain fully operational at both of the hospitals,” White said. “It’s just the medical admissions that we’re going to pause for a temporary period of time.”

She added that, as of Thursday morning, there were a total of three patients (from both hospitals combined) in the in-patient beds in those hospitals. This number normally runs between six to eight patients (from the two hospitals combined).

White noted that Hawkins and Hancock hospitals collectively see between 30 and 40 patients in the emergency departments. Only between 8 to 10% of those patients need overnight medical admissions.

She also told the Review that this change should have no impact on the quality of care at these two hospitals, as no changes are being made to their emergency departments. But, this does mean that there is an additional two to four patients being transferred to Holston Valley in Kingsport.

“These two hospitals are NOT closing”

White was also very clear that neither Hawkins or Hancock hospitals are closing.

“Those hospitals are staying open,” White said. “We are also leaving open our lifesaving emergency departments in both of those hospitals. Of the 30 to 40 emergency department visits that those hospitals see collectively, somewhere between two and three of those patients get admitted daily. Those two to three that need medical admission would be transferred to Holston Valley Medical Center in Kingsport, which is where these patients normally come anyway for higher level care.”

She added, “We don’t have high-level intensive care in either Hawkins or Hancock hospitals. This allows us to better utilize the staff there, who are trained to take care of in-patients, here in Kingsport up to their capacity. It also allows us to open 12 to 14 additional beds to support the region—including Hawkins and Hancock, Wise and Sullivan counties. This allows us to better serve the COVID-19 patients and the rise in cases we’ve seen. Our COVID-19 census has tripled since last week, and this was part of our trigger surge plan to ensure that we’re utilizing our resources as best we can. The majority of the services that are offered today in those two valued community hospitals are still going to be offered.”

When asked how long she expected this surge plan to last, White said, “I wish we could answer that, but this is part of an overall market and system surge plan. All of that depends on what we see happen regarding the increase we’ve seen in COVID-19 in-patient needs at our tertiary centers. We are prayerful that we will start to see a decline in those cases again and a point when we can return those services back to those community hospitals. But, we can’t predict that. Some of that is very dependent on how the COVID-19 pandemic affects the need for hospital beds.”

She also noted that, though both Hawkins and Hancock hospitals have the capability to care for a COVID-19 patient, all of the COVID-19 beds are currently located in the tertiary centers.

Ballad offers incentives to employees transferred to Kingsport

“All of our clinicians in both Hawkins and Hancock hospitals are very needed, so we are proactively working to have them redeployed here (in Kingsport) as part of our team,” White said. “They will not have to worry about not getting their hours or being impacted by less work. We’re asking them to shift their hospital location focus from Hawkins and Hancock to our tertiary center (Holston Valley) in Kingsport.”

These employees will be offered incentives and have their mileage reimbursed.

“We will make sure to welcome them and put them in appropriate clinical assignments that they’re comfortable with,” she said. “We understand that this is a little bit of a change in regard to their daily life. They will be utilized day one without any interruption in their work hours—just a change of location in where they will work during this temporary period.”

She added, “From their change of location from where they would have driven to (either Hawkins or Hancock County), we will ensure that we’re paying for their mileage to their temporary redeploy location. We will take care of that, plus some additional float incentives.”

As far as employee response, White noted that the employees are “resilient.”

“We want our team to hear the message collectively from us and understand the ‘why’ behind it,” White said. “The majority of our team has been resilient. We all understand the seriousness of this pandemic, and our clinical team members understand that we’ve taken additional measures similar to this at our other hospitals. It’s never easy when you make a change of location, but we’re doing our best to make this as seamless as possible for them.”

Stay tuned to the Review for further information on how this change will affect local EMS and Director Jason Murrell’s presentation to the Public Safety Committee on July 15.