Ballad Health, Watauga Orthopaedics clash over new policy


By Dave Ongie, Managing Editor

A new Ballad Health policy set to take effect at Johnson City Medical Center on Feb. 1 has sparked a disagreement between Ballad and Watauga Orthopaedics.

At the beginning of February, Ballad is changing its policy at JCMC – the region’s only Level 1 Trauma Center – and requiring patients to be evaluated by a fellowship-trained orthopedic traumatologist when they arrive in the emergency department. Ballad told the Business Journal in an email that an assessment by a traumatologist is a standard in Level 1 trauma centers nationwide, and JCMC medical staff leadership is changing the protocol to ensure patients who present with traumatic orthopedic injuries have access to this service in the interest of best practices.

Watauga Orthopaedics, however, released a statement on Jan. 4 disagreeing with the decision and touting the practice’s 70 years of providing orthopedic trauma care in emergency departments.

“Ballad’s change to trauma call coverage at JCMC is another example of steps they are taking to monopolize health care in our region,” the statement said in part.

Watauga Orthopaedics currently provides 24/7 on-call coverage at JCMC as well as Holston Valley Medical Center and the Bristol Regional Medical Center. On-call coverage at Holston Valley and Bristol Regional will not be affected by the new policy because neither is designated as a Level 1 Trauma Center.

“We do not support this decision and strongly believe in a patient’s right to choose their healthcare provider,” Watauga said in its statement.

Ballad, however, disputes Watauga’s claim that patients will no longer be able to choose their provider at JCMC. While Ballad’s orthopedic trauma surgeons will assess patients in the emergency department, Ballad said via email that “any patient may, at any time, choose to be seen by an orthopedist of their preference.”

Watauga reiterated its intention to keep an orthopedic specialist available 24/7 and reminded patients they have the option to request a Watagua provider be called to JCMC to provide care in the emergency department.

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