Ballad COPA

With a nearly full house behind him, Tim Bradshaw addresses the members of the Tennessee Department of Helath's local COPA committee at Northeast State in February 2019 during a public hearing regarding Ballad Health's first year.

The attorney representing 10 East Tennessee residents has filed an appeal of the group’s federal antitrust lawsuit against Ballad Health.

The appeal was filed Friday with the 6th Circuit in Cincinnati, Ohio, according to Frank Santore, the group’s attorney. The lawsuit was originally filed in U.S. District Court in Greeneville, Tennessee. On Dec. 11, Judge Curtis Collier dismissed the case, saying the plaintiffs hadn’t shown actual harm.

In filing the motion, Santore issued a brief statement.

“The fight that these brave clients of mine, who are standing alone against the largest medical monopoly in the United States, an octopus that has shut down hospitals and clinics, raised prices for necessary medical services, sued poor people for money when they have naught but a spoonful of gruel in their bowl, and, most shockingly, paid off local and state leaders — some of whom now seek to run for Congress — to do its bidding, is not over … by a long shot,” Santore wrote in an email.

Ballad Health officials on Friday declined comment on the appeal and Santore’s comments.

Ballad has not closed any hospitals since the 2018 merger of former competitors Mountain States Health Alliance and Wellmont Health System, but it has stopped offering some services or relocated services at some facilities in markets where it has multiple hospitals, including Kingsport and Greene County in Tennessee and Wise County, Virginia.

The original complaint maintains that David Golden and Scott Niswonger should not be allowed to serve on the boards of both Ballad Health and East Tennessee State University. It challenges the role of ETSU President Brian Noland, who also serves on the Ballad board, asserting that Ballad and ETSU’s heath care providers are competitors in the marketplace.

The complaint also asks the court to declare that the Certificate of Public Advantage issued by the Tennessee Department of Health — which governs Ballad Health operations — doesn’t satisfy federal antitrust immunity regulations and seeks a remake of one or both boards.

The complaint names as defendants Ballad Health, Medical Education Assistance Corp., doing business as East Tennessee Physicians and Associates and University Physicians Practice Group, and all 11 of Ballad Health’s board members.

In his ruling, Judge Collier found “the complaint lacks any factual allegations that the injury is particularized to the named plaintiffs.”

“Plaintiffs allege the interlocking directorate has caused facilities to close, has increased travel times to intensive care units, and could potentially lead to increased healthcare costs,” Collier wrote in a memorandum. “The complaint, however, does not indicate how plaintiffs, as individuals, are impacted by these events. Plaintiffs cannot simply state a harm occurred in order to establish injury in fact; they must provide some factual allegations to demonstrate the harm is specific to them.”

The plaintiffs are Christine Bearden, David Bearden, Terri Cook, Carolyn Gibbons, Elmer D. Greer, LaDonna Greer, Mark Hutchins, Kevin Mitchell, Jamie Strange Pierson and Crystal Gail Regan.

Gibbons and Regan spoke out against Ballad Health on Tuesday during the Tennessee Department of Health’s Local Advisory Council annual public hearing regarding Ballad operations.

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dmcgee@bristolnews.com | 276-645-2532 | Twitter: @DMcGeeBHC

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