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Speakers criticize Ballad Health COPA

Hank Hayes • Jan 7, 2020 at 9:30 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — Nearly 20 speakers took issue with Ballad Health and its state-issued Certificate of Public Advantage (COPA) during a COPA Local Advisory Board public hearing held at Northeast State Tuesday night.

The COPA oversees the Wellmont-Mountain States merger that created Ballad Health.

The public hearing was on Ballad Health’s annual report, which noted: The board of directors of Ballad Health approved a major investment in the system’s nursing positions, with an increase of more than $100 million over 10 years in direct patient care nursing and supporting staff wages; the orthopedic and neurosurgical service lines at Indian Path Community Hospital were moved to Holston Valley Medical Center; Ballad Health achieved $11.7 million in cost savings through supply chain standardization and $10 million in cost savings through corporate overhead consolidation; Ballad Health continued to experience a decline in overall inpatient volumes, with discharges in the reporting period declining 4.9% from the prior year. The discharge decline was driven primarily by a reduction in lower acuity admissions, a result of focused efforts by Ballad Health and primary care physician groups to reduce the total cost of care through value-based approaches; and a uniform pricing system was announced, resulting in a 17% overall average decrease in professional fees for Ballad Health physicians and other caregivers. The change also significantly discounted professional fees by 77% for patients without insurance.

Council Chairman Dennis Phillips, Kingsport’s former mayor, said the council has questions and concerns “about some things” in the report.

“We’re not ignoring things like that,” he insisted. “I would remind you our job is to receive input. Contrary to what some people might think, we are not an enforcement agency.”

Dani Cook, who has led a 250-plus-day protest outside Holston Valley Medical Center due to downgrades in the facility’s neonatal intensive care unit and trauma care, called on Phillips to resign.

“The chairman of this council recently referred to the citizens of Kingsport, the entire city, as ‘morons,’ ” Cook charged. “To believe this individual can impartially and properly facilitate input ... is absurd and unacceptable.”

Other speakers expressed concern about Ballad Health’s billing practices; why the Tennessee Department of Health hasn’t scored the COPA; the health care system losing trauma surgeons; having to travel longer distances for trauma care; and alleged inadequate staffing levels.

“If you are a good doctor, the only way you can be a good doctor is to have a good hospital,” said council member Dr. Jerry Miller, founder of Holston Medical Group.

Each speaker at the public hearing got at least three minutes to deliver remarks. A court reporter recorded the hearing. Participants also were allowed to bring written comments.

Those who did not attend the hearing may provide input by email to [email protected] or by mail to the Tennessee Department of Health — COPA, 710 James Robertson Parkway, Nashville, Tenn. 37243.

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