Ballad Health investing in outpatient services, realigning intensive care services at Sycamore Shoals Hospital
New technology to benefit women’s health, while regionalization of ICU services aligns with national best practices for quality
Ballad Health today announced new investments at Sycamore Shoals Hospital in Elizabethton, which will enhance care for women and expand access to psychiatric services through the addition of a psychiatric provider at its primary care clinic. The new investments come on the heels of nearly $2 million of capital improvements to Sycamore Shoals Hospital in the last 18 months.
“I am so pleased that Ballad Health leadership has approved the purchase of a new 3D mammography unit, or digital breast tomosynthesis, for our community,” said Dwayne Taylor, CEO of Sycamore Shoals Hospital.
“This new technology will enhance breast cancer detection and improve patient outcomes for the women in the communities we serve. Additionally, given the demand for behavioral health services, we are also pleased to be adding a psychiatric provider to our primary care clinic here in Elizabethton. This will further expand investments in primary care and behavioral health integration, thus enhancing access to services aligned with the needs of our community.”
In addition to the new technology and service expansion, Ballad Health has invested in several improvements at Sycamore Shoals Hospital in the past year, including new anesthesia machines to support the surgery program, improvements to the facility to provide safeguards for behavioral health patients and protect against fires, new sleep lab equipment and investments in the physical plant, such as a new climate control system and roof replacement. Additionally, the health system provided more than $135,000 for new cardiac monitoring equipment for the Carter County Emergency and Rescue Squad in 2021.
Also, Ballad Health announced that, effective Sunday, June 4, intensive care services at Sycamore Shoals Hospital will be integrated into the intensive care unit (ICU) at Johnson City Medical Center, located less than 10 miles from Sycamore Shoals Hospital.
The decision to integrate the intensive care services from Sycamore Shoals Hospital to Johnson City Medical Center comes after an in-depth review of existing services and aligns with national best practices for providing intensive care services in higher-volume units that are fully staffed with pulmonary providers, intensivists, medical residents and dozens of medical and surgical subspecialists, as is the case at Johnson City Medical Center.
The depth of specialties available, combined with the services that support high-acuity care at Johnson City Medical Center, significantly improves the chances for better patient outcomes, according to several national studies.
The average daily census of the ICU at Sycamore Shoals Hospital is fewer than six patients, making its ICU one of the lower-volume units in the state of Tennessee, a fact not surprising given the proximity of the hospital to Johnson City Medical Center, where many patients from the Sycamore Shoals Hospital service area currently receive their ICU services.
“The overwhelming medical evidence shows that regionalizing high-acuity services, like intensive care, saves more lives,” said Ballad Health Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Amit Vashist.
“In fact, the recent consensus from the National Critical Care Congress suggests that models like what Ballad Health is creating are a best practice when there is good systemic coordination, which we have created. Another recent study suggested that if every ICU in America were structured as we are at Johnson City Medical Center – with an intensivist model – more than 53,000 lives would be saved annually. This is compelling to us, as our goal is to provide the best possible care in the right environment for patients.”
Another paper published in 2015 stated that there is a “statistically significant association between higher admission volumes and improved outcomes for patients,” Dr. Vashist said.
Ballad Health records show that, in 2022, 337 patients in the Sycamore Shoals service area utilized the ICU at Johnson City Medical Center, either by choice or because their condition required they be transferred from Sycamore Shoals Hospital. This move will eliminate the need to transfer a significant number of patients already admitted to the ICU.
Ballad Health Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Alan Levine praised the medical and nursing staff at Sycamore Shoals Hospital.
“This decision has nothing to do with the incredible staff at Sycamore Shoals Hospital, who have proven to be compassionate and skilled as a clinical team,” Levine said. “Rather, the decision has everything to do with ensuring patients are placed in the setting where they have the best chance for survival and recovery. The evidence shows that higher-volume units with more robust intensivist and specialist availability simply lead to better outcomes.”
All impacted team members will have the option to work in other open positions at Sycamore Shoals Hospital, equivalent positions to their current roles in Johnson City Medical Center’s ICU or elsewhere within Ballad Health where a need exists.
The announcement related to the integration of ICU services at Johnson City Medical Center follows other similar integrations Ballad Health has done, each of which led to improvements in outcomes for patients. Examples include the integration of Indian Path Community Hospital’s ICU into Holston Valley Medical Center, the integration of obstetric services from Holston Valley to Indian Path, the consolidation of Level 1 trauma and the creation of a regionally coordinated trauma system – leading to the region’s Level 1 trauma center being named among America’s best performing for patient safety – consolidation of the NICU services at Niswonger Children’s Hospital, consolidation of two hospitals in Greeneville and consolidation of surgical, obstetric and other services in Wise County, Virginia.
Except for the investment into new technology for breast cancer screening, no other services will change at Sycamore Shoals Hospital, and the community hospital will continue to provide 24-hour emergency care, inpatient and outpatient surgical services, lab services and diagnostic services.
“Moving forward, we remain committed to fulfilling our mission of delivering excellent care and serving the healthcare needs of the great people in our community by investing in new services like 3D mammography and behavioral health and continuing to recruit new medical providers to the region,” Taylor said.
“We are proud to showcase a familiar environment of care where patients receive individual attention from healthcare professionals who understand their specific needs. Healthcare is always changing, but I have to say we are blessed to have a community hospital offering personalized care in Elizabethton while so many other communities and rural hospitals close across the country.”