A new report chastises Ballad Health for failing to effectively communicate with the people it serves.
The April report was prepared by Larry Fitzgerald, Tennessee’s state compliance monitor. Fitzgerald is employed by the Tennessee Department of Health to review Ballad’s compliance with all provisions of the state-issued Certificate of Public Advantage, which allowed Mountain States Health Alliance and Wellmont Health System to consolidate in February 2018.
The 11-page report urges Ballad to improve communications.
“Ballad Health should determine how to communicate effectively with its community of 21 counties over an area about the size of New Jersey,” Fitzgerald wrote. “In spite of its efforts, communication has been ineffective.”
Fitzgerald cited public outcry during a February public hearing by the Local Advisory Council, saying many of those concerns could have been averted “had communications been effective.”
During that meeting, dozens of people complained about Ballad services, pricing, wages, plans to close the neonatal intensive care unit and downgrade the trauma center at Holston Valley Medical Center in Kingsport.
“Some of the opposition to the proposed trauma center and NICU changes would have been averted had Ballad Health employed an effective and timely process for obtaining community input,” Fitzgerald wrote.
He suggests using external resources to improve communications, especially with the news media.
Much of the remainder of the report dealt with Ballad’s first five months of operation — from February through June 2018. It states that all complaints received by the monitor’s office “were each reviewed and resolved without any changes to Ballad Health’s operations being recommended.”
It also praised the formation of a Clinical Council comprised of care providers from the 21-county service area, reporting “The council has the potential to positively impact quality of care throughout the service area and be a key voice in a communication strategy.”
Fitzgerald reported making regular visits to Ballad’s corporate offices and major hospitals. He said Ballad’s original three-year capital budget investment plan “did not meet” terms of certification, but after analysis has increased it to “an amount I believe meets the standard.”
Fitzgerald also reviewed and met with Ballad officials regarding the proposed perinatal care changes and made a recommendation to the Tennessee Department of Health, but didn’t disclose what that recommendation was.
During the next 12 months, Fitzgerald plans to review the index scores, prepare recommendations for changes to a rule that limits the employment of physicians, continue monthly on-site visits and work to bring more consistency for monitoring requirements between Tennessee’s terms of certification and Virginia’s Cooperative Agreement.
The health care system issued a statement in response to the report.
“Ballad Health agrees with the COPA monitor’s conclusion that, ‘Ballad Health has begun this journey successfully.’ Our priority is to deliver excellent healthcare to our communities, and that is what our team members remain focused on. We are committed to working with both states to make Ballad Health and the care we provide better for the region.”