Ballad Health responds to state probe of proposed NICU changes

Johnson City, Tenn.-based Ballad Health responded to questions from the Tennessee Department of Health regarding the health system's proposed changes for the neonatal intensive care unit, according to the Johnson City Press.

The response includes details of how Ballad Health's plan to downgrade Kingston, Tenn.-based Holston Valley Medical Center's NICU from a level 3 to a level 1 nursery will affect the region's newborns and mothers.

Under the plan, newborns who need level 3 NICU services will be moved to Niswonger Children's Hospital in Johnson City. About 100 newborns per year, who previously would have received care at Holston Valley, will be moved to Niswonger Children's Hospital under the proposal.

Alan Levine, Ballad Health's CEO, said the health system's consolidation of the NICU will not jeopardize patient care.

To determine how the consolidation plan will affect patient access to care, the state asked Ballad Health how it plans to track the travel distance of affected families.

"Tracking mileage is not a standard practice, as the region is defined and can vary based on patient origination. Patient origination data is available and demonstrates that more than 500 newborns were transferred to Niswonger from distances greater than one hour away ... and as much as two hours away," Mr. Levine wrote in his response to the health department.

"Distances like this are not unusual for children's hospitals, and certainly, in Tennessee, fairly typical with respect to the regional perinatal centers, of which there are only five. …The vast majority of level 3 NICU services are provided at Niswonger today, so the distances are not a new issue."

A 90-day approval period will start when the state receives all necessary information to process the request for changes to pediatric services.

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