Pictured Above, CEO of Ballad Health Alan Levine
By Dave Ongie
At a time when public health officials are urging people to stay apart, Alan Levine claimed during his Tuesday media briefing that medical professionals at Ballad Health are finding out they are indeed “better together” as they address the COVID-19 outbreak in our region.
“I cannot imagine what it would be like right now if we were still Mountain States Health Alliance and Wellmont Health System in this region,” Levine said. “You’ve now got the best and brightest of both systems working together to solve problems instead of bumping into each other in these different markets.”
Levine cited coordination and execution as the two most critical factors to responding to any emergency. With a potential surge of coronavirus patients in the near future, Levine outlined plans to utilize Greeneville Community Hospital West and Lonesome Pine Hospital to provide extra COVID capacity during the epidemic. He said this sort of flexibility was made possible through the merger.
Tuesday’s briefing included new measures that have been taken to protect the health of patients and Ballad team members. Ballad COO Eric Deaton announced that visitors would be restricted in emergency rooms and outpatient treatment facilities throughout the system starting on Wednesday with very few exceptions that would be made in extenuating circumstances. Labor and delivery facilities would allow one visitor and neonatal ICUs would both continue to allow parents or guardians to visit their children.
Deaton also announced an initiative called Code Airway, a communication system designed to protect medical workers coming in contact with COVID-19 patients thanks to a two-way communication system between EMS workers and Ballad emergency services employees. According to Deaton, Ballad is also screening all team members entering every facility in the system. Anyone with a fever of 100 or higher will be sent home and retested in 72 hours.
On the testing front, Levine said Ballad has set up 21 testing sites around the region where people can go to be tested. He added that Ballad now has the ability to do rapid testing, which can yield a result in just a few hours.
Currently, Ballad has the capacity to run 50 rapid tests per day, and those are currently being administered to patients who show up with severe symptoms, inpatients in Ballad facilities and staff members that have potentially been exposed to the virus. However, Levine added that a new lab analyzer is expected to arrive in a matter of days that will allow Ballad to process 400 rapid tests per day.
Levine also praised Gov. Bill Lee’s announcement that $10 million is being allocated for small and rural hospital readiness grants to support hospitals that are facing a financial strain during the COVID-19 outbreak. While Levine said some of the hospitals in Ballad’s system might qualify for grant money, he said the first priority is to be sure rural hospitals facing possible closure are first in line for the funds.
“The majority of our rural hospitals in the 21-county service area that we serve lose money,” Levine said. “They were losing money before the merger. They were losing money before the pandemic. But because Ballad Health has been in the position to subsidize those hospitals, you haven’t had those hospitals fail like you’ve seen in other parts of the country. Now the problem we have is the hospitals that have historically been subsidizing those hospitals, those hospitals themselves are now losing money. That creates a different cascade of problems for us.”