Is the region losing physicians?

Hank Hayes • Oct 30, 2019 at 8:21 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — Are physicians leaving the region?

That topic came up during Tuesday's COPA (Certificate of Public Advantage) Local Advisory Council meeting held at the Sullivan County Health Department.

The council specifically had asked COPA Monitor Larry Fitzgerald to issue a report whether physicians are leaving the area due to changes at Ballad Health.

"At this time, that's not complete," Gary Miller, Ballad Health's COPA compliance officer, said of the report on behalf of Fitzgerald, who was not at the meeting.

Council member Jerry Miller, founder of Holston Medical Group, noted change is always challenging.

"In my years at Holston Medical Group, I can tell it's not an easy area to recruit," Miller said. "It really bothers me when we lose somebody."

Council Chairman Dennis Phillips, Kingsport's former mayor, suggested the protest outside Holston Valley Medical Center due to service downgrades is hurting physician recruitment.

Five physicians visited the hospital recently, one saw the protest and asked, 'What the hell is that?' " Phillips said.

Ballad Health Chief Administrative Officer Marvin Eichorn said he's been working with Fitzgerald to provide him information.

"When it comes to the physicians leaving, there are two pieces of information we have a lot of detail about," Eichorn told the council. "We employ roughly 500 physicians. The actual number of physicians who left in 2018 dropped 30% compared to 2017. They could retire, go to work for the VA (Veterans Administration) ... the number one reason by far is economic."

The council's mission is to assist the Tennessee Department of Health in ensuring that the Certificate of Public Advantage issued to Ballad Health provides a public benefit for residents of Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia by facilitating public input and reporting on information received.