Sycamore Shoals Hospital degradation

Published 10:34 am Friday, June 16, 2023

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To the Editor:
This is a letter to the Mayor and commissioners of Carter County.
For many years, your constituents have enjoyed access to high quality medical services and employment opportunities availed at your local community’s Sycamore Shoals Hospital. As you’re aware, your local hospital’s critical ICU and PCU services are being eliminated forcing your constituents to seek those services at other Ballad Health hospitals … the closest being Johnson City Medical Center located 10 miles (20 minutes) away (door to door).
After years of public testimony, FTC remonstrance, community opposition, and political maneuverings, Ballad Health was approved as a monopoly five (5) years ago by the Tennessee Department of Health on the theory that the benefits of the monopoly would outweigh the disadvantages that would result from the loss of competition, and with the caveat that rigid Terms of Certification be satisfied. Since its inception, Ballad has requested numerous modifications to those Terms of Certification and promises made in its original application, including at least 21 of which have been approved by the state over the last two (2) years alone.
It appears that decisions regarding medical services affecting your constituents are being made unilaterally by executives in a Board room and bureaucrats in Nashville (the national epicenter of for-profit hospital companies). Have you been personally approached and asked for your input by any of those bureaucratic decision makers approving changes affecting your constituents, or did you have to approach them? Have they listened and heard? Or have they listened with merely the intent to reply with more excuses as to why they can’t keep the promises they made?
How will the elimination of critical services at Sycamore Shoals Hospital affect your constituents? Is adding 20+ minutes to drive to a hospital with a 2-hour longer Emergency Department average visit acceptable? Is stationing an ambulance at the hospital a viable alternative or a mere attempt to placate? Is being hospitalized for critical care at a hospital with worse key performance characteristics acceptable? Will your hospital’s ICU and PCU employees being laid off be reassigned, and will that negatively impact their quality of life due to the time and cost of additional travel?
The schedule below portrays the variance of key performance characteristics between your local community hospital and Ballad Health’s “flagship”:
Wally Hankwitz, MBA, LFACHE
Retired Healthcare Executive / Consultant

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