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Tuesday, Mar 10, 2020

Ballad Health expands COVID-19 response efforts

Health system opens hotline for potential COVID-19 cases

For up-to-date COVID-19 information

To learn more about coronavirus disease 2019 and read updated information, please visit our COVID-19 page.

Following Tuesday’s announcement of the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the region, Ballad Health has taken steps to expand its response and preparedness efforts.

Corporate Emergency Operations Center activated

First, Ballad Health has activated its Corporate Emergency Operations Center (CEOC) to coordinate response efforts across the system and around the region. The CEOC is composed of key leaders overseeing essential functions of the health system.

The Board of Directors of Ballad Health has acted to delegate its full authority to the Chairman and CEO to ensure rapid response to the rapidly changing situation. Ballad Health Chairman and CEO Alan Levine has appointed Chief Operating Officer Eric Deaton to serve as Incident Commander for the Ballad Health Corporate Emergency Operations Center. The delegation of authority permits the Incident Commander to deploy resources rapidly and to implement policies as necessary to ensure the Appalachian Highlands is best-served.

“COVID-19 has arrived in our region, and we are taking steps to ensure we are responsive to the needs of the people who may rely on our care,” said Levine. “The establishment of our Emergency Operations Center enables the most rapid response possible as the situation may evolve.”

On Tuesday, the Sullivan County Regional Health Department announced the first positive case in the Appalachian Highlands of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. That patient was never admitted into any Ballad Health facility, and is currently isolated at home with contact tracing being handled by the Health Department.

Call center for those with mild symptoms

Second, Ballad Health has established a call center for individuals to contact if they are experiencing mild symptoms and wish to speak with a health care professional. If you believe you are experiencing mild symptoms, please stay at home and self-isolate, and call Ballad Health’s Nurse Connect at 1-833-822-5523. A Ballad Health team member will provide a screening over the telephone. The phone line is active 24 hours per day, and the service is free.

Importantly, if you are not symptomatic, but have general questions, the best source of information is here on, the Tennessee Department of Health or the Virginia Department of Health. Telephone hotline information for the Tennessee and Virginia Departments of Health can be found on these websites.

“Our Nurse Connect will be an instrumental first point of contact for people where we can assess the risk factors for people who are concerned about symptoms,” said Dr. Amit Vashist, Chief Clinical Officer of Ballad Health. “The call center is supported by nurses and physicians who can provide an appropriate initial assessment, and then provide guidance to individuals based on their specific symptoms, risk factors and possible need for testing. If we utilize this system, we can reduce the possibility of a surge that can impact our emergency access points for other patients, and we can provide a more orderly mechanism for getting patients to care who may need more immediate access. It also minimizes unnecessary exposure to health care professionals and protects patients the workforce. Isolation of high risk cases is the most important thing we can do to prevent the possible spread.”

If you choose not to utilize this service, and instead prefer to go to your doctor or to an urgent care, Ballad Health is urging consumers to call ahead to ensure the physician or urgent care office is prepared. If you have fever, respiratory issues, a cough or other symptoms which may be related to the coronavirus, you can expect to be immediately asked to wear a mask upon entry, and to be tested for other respiratory issues, such as the flu or other more common viruses, before being tested for the coronavirus. As of now, it is likely the condition relates to something other than the coronavirus.

Regionwide access points for testing

Third, anticipating the need for more COVID-19 testing in the region, Ballad Health is in the process of establishing multiple access points for testing if indicated. More details will be announced in the coming days.

Hospital entrance restrictions and screenings

Fourth, Ballad Health will be implementing restricted entrances to its hospitals, with screenings for those who enter the facilities. These measures are intended to ensure the protection and sustainability of the health care workforce. The restrictions will go into effect in the coming days.

“We ask that our neighbors remain calm and understand the steps we are taking today, and will take in the coming days and weeks, are intended to protect the health care workforce, and also to reduce the potential for the spread of this virus,” said Deaton. “We can’t pretend to know what is to come, but we can take responsible steps to mitigate the situation. Our goal is to serve our region, provide care to those who need it, and to be a reliable source of information. Our Emergency Operations Center is staffed with people who are experienced and determined to get this right.”

In recent weeks, Ballad Health has met with school superintendents, mayors, local health departments, EMS providers and first responders from across the region to discuss our respective plans and coordinate efforts to confront this public health challenge. The health system’s Infection Prevention team has also been holding tabletop exercises at facilities across the system to ensure all caregivers and team members are prepared and know the health system’s response plan.

As always, if you have an emergency situation, please call 911 or visit your nearest emergency department.

Think you might have COVID-19?

Please call 833-822-5523 to be screened if you are concerned you may be ill with COVID-19. This Ballad Health Nurse Connect line is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Or use this Coronavirus Screening Tool to help determine if you or a loved one need to seek medical care.


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