Ballad Health defers elective overnight procedures, citing significant and projected increases in local COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations
An increase in novel coronavirus (COVID-19) cases in the Appalachian Highlands has prompted Ballad Health to defer all elective, non-emergent surgical cases requiring overnight patient stays as of Monday, Aug. 16.
The decision to postpone these procedures follows several weeks of sustained COVID-19 increases, with infections rising 800% since July 4. Ballad Health estimates that, based on the rate of growth experienced in hospitalizations, combined with projections of community spread and few meaningful mitigation efforts, inpatient hospitalization census could reach as high as 500. Already, the number of inpatients, who require significant resources, is putting a strain on available resources.
Hospitals throughout the Southeast are experiencing massive nurse staffing and resource shortages, combined with increases in preventable admissions due to COVID-19 infections. Just yesterday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott requested additional help for staffing for hospitals in that state. And in Florida, additional resources were requested for ventilators and breathing devices. In Mississippi, a hospital garage has been converted to a patient care ward, and throughout the Southeast, children’s hospitals are reporting they are full.
“This was not an easy decision to make; however, it is necessary to preserve manpower and hospital resources to address the COVID-19 pandemic in the Appalachian Highlands,” said Eric Deaton, Ballad Health’s chief operating officer and incident commander of its Corporate Emergency Operations Center (CEOC).
“Just because these procedures are elective or non-emergent, it doesn’t mean they’re not needed. People who are waiting for these procedures are in pain, and their quality of life is being impacted. But we must address the most life-threatening conditions first, and right now, COVID-19 is posing a major threat to the lives of thousands of people in our region – even if it is now largely preventable with a vaccine.”
To determine which procedures are classified as non-emergent, Ballad Health will follow the Elective Surgery Acuity Scale (ESAS), which was developed by St. Louis University and is recommended by the American College of Surgeons as hospitals and health systems respond to challenges posed by COVID-19.
Postponed procedures will include low-acuity surgeries for healthy and unhealthy patients that require an overnight stay during recovery. These cases may include certain cardiac, orthopedic and other systemic surgery determined to be not-emergent.
The pause on elective, non-emergent surgical cases requiring an overnight stay also includes already-scheduled procedures. Affected patients are currently being notified.
Additionally, Ballad Health will require all elective surgical patients whose procedures are still taking place obtain a negative COVID-19 test before arriving to the hospital, including patients who have been fully vaccinated.
Along with input from medical staff, Ballad Health will reassess the pandemic’s spread daily and will make a decision about continuing the pause or resuming cases on a weekly basis, based upon staffing and resource capacity.
“As we move forward, we will continue constantly monitoring and addressing the situation and doing everything possible to alleviate the effects of the pandemic in our region,” said Dr. Clay Runnels, Ballad Health’s chief physician executive. “Of course, the best options to contain the virus – wearing masks indoors, in large groups and, yes, in schools, and getting a COVID-19 vaccine if you’re 12 years of age or older – are out of our control and in the hands of our community members now. We urge them to be informed and make the right choices for themselves and those around them.”
Ballad Health maintains a community vaccination center (CVC) in the Mall at Johnson City, Tennessee. The vaccine center is open every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 2-7 p.m. Walk-ins are welcome, and online scheduling for eligible patients is also available on the health system’s main webpage and its COVID-19 page, as well as the Ballad Health mobile app on Apple and Android smartphones and tablets.
The vaccines are available for all community members age 12 and older, and appointments are not required. All vaccines are provided free of charge, regardless of whether patients have insurance.
Community members must bring a photo ID when they arrive for their vaccine, and healthcare workers should bring their work ID badge. Second doses will be scheduled when patients check in, and everyone must be observed for at least 15 minutes after receiving the shot to monitor for any possible side effects. Children and teenagers from 12-17 years old must have a parent or guardian with them at all Ballad Health CVCs. Masks are still required in all Ballad Health facilities, which include CVCs and mobile vaccination events.
To date, the rate of fully vaccinated individuals within the Appalachian Highlands is 38.4%.
Additionally, in continuing its ongoing fight against COVID-19, Ballad Health still maintains a strong presence in testing, with eight drive-through testing sites in the region, located in Bristol, Elizabethton, Johnson City, Kingsport and Rogersville, Tennessee, and in Abingdon, Lebanon, and Norton, Virginia. Anyone who is experiencing symptoms and believes they might have been exposed to COVID-19 is advised to call Ballad Health Nurse Connect at 833-822-5523. Community members can also schedule COVID-19 testing online or through the Ballad Health mobile app.
COVID-19 news and updates will continue to be shared to the COVID-19 information page.