Ballad Health converting Hancock, Hawkins hospitals to emergency only facilities

As a result of the sharp increase in COVID-19 cases in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia, Ballad Health announced a response plan that will reassign nurses from Hawkins County Memorial Hospital in Rogersville and Hancock County Hospital in Sneedville to facilities in Kingsport and Johnson City.

Due to this plan, a temporary pause on medical admissions and surgical procedures at Hawkins County and Hancock County hospitals halted Thursday morning with surgeries to be halted at completion of the final scheduled case on Friday.

According to a press release from Ballad Health spokesperson Meaghan Smith, in the past seven days, the rate of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has sharply increased in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia, resulting in a dramatic increase of hospitalized patients at Ballad Health.

“As the virus continues to spread, we expect these admission rates to climb even higher, putting a great strain on our team members and healthcare resources,” Smith stated.

Both facilities’ emergency departments will remain fully functional, along with outpatient imaging, laboratory, outpatient physical therapy and sleep lab services, according to Smith.

In an interview with Ballad Health Northwest Market President Lindy White Thursday, White said that occupancy levels at both Rogersville and Sneedville are three overnight patients in both hospitals today, with the normal census being six to eight patients in both facilities.

“In the emergency rooms at both hospitals, both average around 30 to 40 patients a day,” White said. “Only about eight to 10 percent of patients there need overnight medical admissions. That is one of the causes that we are taking as result of this most recent communication.

“As we reach 75 percent capacity, we need to open more beds. We want to make this as seamless as possible,” White said.

White said that when many patients require extended care than what either hospital can provide, they are normally transferred to Holston Valley Medical Center in Kingsport.

“This will allow us to utilize the staff to their capabilities,” White said. “The Hancock County nurses will go to Kingsport and will get variances of mileage and expenses associated with it. They will be able to be utilized day one.”

White said that all workers are very much needed to have them redeployed to Kingsport.

“We’re asking them to shift their location of focus to put them into assignments that they are comfortable with,” White said. “There will also be additional float incentives available to these nurses.”

White said that the nurses making the change are “resilient.”

“Anytime you make a change with staff and team members, we wanted our team members to hear it from us. They have been resilient. Our critical care nurses understand that. From the clinical team, they understand the why behind it. We’re doing our best to make this as seamless as possible. They love the communities they work in and their community hospitals. A team always steps up, they’ll do a wonderful job. They’re a resilient, high-level, group of skilled workers,” White said.

As for COVID-19 cases in both communities, both hospitals are capable of providing care, but patients would be transferred to Kingsport should they need advanced care.

“We have a responsibility to have those critical care beds available,” White said.

White said that doctor’s offices and physical therapy services would not be affected.

“This will not impact outpatient services,” White said. “We’re doing our best that we keep our outpatient services there. The services that the patients need more often we’re doing our best to keep those services there.”

Finally, when White was asked about Hawkins and Hancock Countiy industrial services, she said that that would not change.

“In those industries, that response has not changed,” White said. “The only major difference is that if the patients needed overnight stay, they would stay in Kingsport.”