But the situation in far Southwest Virginia is deteriorating. Ballad Health held a news conference Wednesday to talk about the growing problem, as daily admissions outnumber discharges and more than 100 people a day are being cared for in the health system, the dominant provider in the Virginia-Tennessee region.
“We are at a tipping point as we see an increase in patients,” said Eric Deaton, Ballad’s chief operating officer. “Simply put, we cannot take another surge like we did in the past. Our health system was really strained before and we are very concerned.”
Deaton said many of Ballad’s staff members “are really close to burn-out and are at the breaking point.”
Ballad was just starting to recover from months in which its hospitals were overrun with COVID patients. The patients are also now younger, with an average age of 58, rather than in their 70s as before, and some are in their 20s. He said they are also sicker, as more require ventilator support.
“Another surge will really cripple the health system,” he said.
Ballad had to curtail more lucrative service lines, such as elective surgeries, during the last surge. COVID patients require a high level of care, but the type of care does not necessarily lend itself to billing codes with high profit margins.
Vaamonde, of the hospital association, showed graphics of different service lines to demonstrate that hospitals’ patient volume in 2020 fell below prior years even after elective services were restarted.