Ballad Health resumes some elective procedures, continues encouraging COVID-19 prevention
A month after a sharp increase in novel coronavirus (COVID-19) cases in the Appalachian Highlands prompted Ballad Health to postpone all elective and non-emergent surgeries, the health system is now preparing to resume some procedures.
Beginning Wednesday, Sept. 29, Ballad Health hospitals will once again provide some elective surgeries that do not require overnight stays. Patients are currently being contacted by their providers’ offices to schedule procedures, and capacity at each facility is determined by individual hospitals’ staffing and space availability.
“This summer, we had to prepare for high volume of COVID-19 patients and plan for a worst-case scenario, which unfortunately required us to curtail some services,” said Eric Deaton, Ballad Health’s chief operating officer and incident commander of its Corporate Emergency Operations Center (CEOC). “Given the limitations on available staffing, it was necessary to take these steps to ensure the safest possible environment for our patients and team members.
“We are grateful for everyone’s ongoing cooperation and input – from the medical staffs who provided their guidance, expertise and support, to the team members who continue to rise to the challenge and meet the needs of our patients, wherever they may be.”
Ballad Health did not furlough any team members during the deferral period, but many affected team members were asked to provide support in various areas throughout the facility in which they work. This enabled Ballad Health to prioritize the most critical and highest-acuity patients and address the worst COVID-19 surge it had seen to date, with a record high of 413 COVID-19 inpatients on Sept. 7, and an all-time high number of COVID-19 patients in its intensive care units on Sept. 13.
The steps Ballad Health took to limit non-emergent/elective surgical procedures, then, helped mitigate the impact on Ballad Health’s capacity as volumes shifted from surgical to COVID-19 and other urgent medical admissions. Deaton and other Ballad Health leaders, however, caution that the system is still seeing high numbers of COVID-19 patients, which require additional support for frontline team members.
“We have to face the new reality of the pandemic, in which we have to care for hundreds of COVID-19 inpatients while also providing the healthcare services our community needs and deserves,” Deaton said. “We’re going to do everything possible to support our team members in those areas with the assistance they need, and we’re going to continue advocating for our communities to get vaccinated, wear masks and follow prevention measures to bring these cases to a heel.”
Currently, the only elective/non-emergent surgeries being scheduled at Ballad Health hospitals are those that do not require an overnight stay, and the capacity at each facility is determined by the hospital’s staffing and space. Ballad Health leaders, though, are hopeful the service can be extended in the coming weeks.
To determine which procedures are classified as non-emergent, Ballad Health will continue to 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.
As examples, postponed procedures have included low-acuity surgeries for healthy and unhealthy patients, such as hernia repair, cholecystectomy, cardiac and interventional radiology procedures, aesthetic and plastic surgeries, podiatric procedures, vasectomies, bariatrics, joint replacements, screening endoscopies and non-essential spine surgery.
In coordination with the respective chairs of the medical staff, and surgery and anesthesiology leaders, Ballad Health will continuously evaluate its capabilities to return to full services, relying upon the spread of the COVID-19 virus and projected volumes, patient demand for urgent and emergent services requiring medical or surgical admission and available staffing.
To fully bring the COVID-19 pandemic under control, Ballad Health continues advocating for wearing masks in public and COVID-19 vaccinations for everyone over the age of 12.
Ballad Health’s community vaccination center (CVC) inside the Mall at Johnson City is open every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 11 a.m. – 6 p.m., and it provides first- and second-dose vaccines for everyone older than 12, as well as third doses for those age 65 and older; long-term care residents and staff; adults who work and live in high-risk settings, including healthcare workers, teachers and grocery store workers; and adults with immunocompromising conditions. Masks are still required in all Ballad Health facilities, which include CVCs and mobile vaccination events.
While vaccination does not always prevent the spread of COVID-19, it is highly effective at preventing serious illness, hospitalizations and death. As of Wednesday, Sept. 22, more than 90% of Ballad Health’s COVID-19 inpatients – and more than 95% of the patients in intensive care or on ventilators – are either unvaccinated or partially vaccinated.
To date, 42.6% of the Appalachian Highlands is fully vaccinated.
COVID-19 news and updates will continue to be shared to the COVID-19 information page.