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Levine: Ballad 'in really good shape' to respond to COVID-19 outbreak

Nathan Baker • Mar 24, 2020 at 7:24 PM

Ballad Health Chairman and CEO Alan Levine said the regional health system is in a good position to treat community spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), should cases spike in the area.

In a press conference Tuesday, held online to practice recommended social distancing, Levine said Ballad’s decision to cancel non-emergency surgeries and diagnostic procedures has freed up hospital beds across the two-state region. Intensive care units across the system now have as many available beds as they ever have, he said.

Out of 276 licensed ICU beds, 62 are now available, up from 50 only a few days ago.

Ballad also has 159 primary critical ventilators, plus a stock of more than 200 transport, pediatric and older, but functional ventilators that could be used if the need surges.

“I think right now, from a capacity standpoint, we’re in really good shape in terms of what we’re seeing in the community versus what we expect,” he said.

As of Monday afternoon, 14 people tested positive for COVID-19 across the area covered by Ballad. Washington County had six cases, Greene County had four, Sullivan County had two and Lee County, Virginia, reported two.

By Tuesday afternoon, the state Health Department reported one new case each in Washington and Greene counties.

Levine said he expects the number of positive cases to rise, and said the health system will soon be able to test for the virus in its own labs in Holston Valley Medical Center and Johnson City Medical Center. Currently, Ballad sends its samples to an outside lab, which can mean five to seven days to receive test results.

Once the hospitals receive reagents ordered from its supplier, Cepheid, Ballad should be able to test 50 samples each day for the virus, and in another couple of weeks, will receive another analyzer to be able to test 400 a day.

In terms of medical supplies for employees, Eric Deaton, the system’s Chief Operations Officer and the leader of its incident command center formed to deal with the novel coronavirus crisis, said Ballad had a hefty stock of 33,000 N95 face masks and expected to get 75,000 more in the next few weeks.

Members of the incident command center are working to plan for surges in cases in specific markets within the Ballad system, Deaton said. Should the need arise, identified resources can be shifted from one area to another to treat an increase in the number of patients.

Some areas hit especially hard by COVID-19 are experiencing shortages of medical-grade face masks, and people are resorting to improvising their own. Social media groups are encouraging people who sew to make fabric masks to distribute to medical professionals and patients.

Ballad Chief Nursing Officer Lisa Smithgall said some people in the community have asked to help the system by making masks at home.

Ballad welcomes the help, she said, but the handmade masks aren’t medical grade and won’t be worn by doctors, nurses and other professionals. Instead, they will be distributed to patients who come to the system’s facilities with respiratory illnesses or concerns.

Ballad provided guidelines and patterns for approved homemade masks on its COVID-19 information website, balladhealth.org/COVID19.

To be effective, the masks must be:

• Made in a clean environment without smoke residue or pet hair;

• Created from fabric that is clean and washed in hot water before being sewn;

• Include two 8-inch squares of woven cotton fabric and a mid-weight non-woven fusible interfacing fabric, as well as bindings, a metal wire for the nose structure and elastic ear loops; and
• Made from new, tightly-woven fabrics, such as quilting cotton, cotton and cotton-blend poplin.

Masks may can dropped off at Ballad Health Medical Associates Urgent Care locations or mailed in a clean plastic bag to Ballad Health’s auxiliary/volunteer services department at Professional Park #1, Suite 16; Johnson City TN 37604.

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