Ballad Health plans to centralize neonatal intensive care services at its Johnson City facilities by Sept. 1, the health care company announced Wednesday.

The transition involves eliminating the neonatal intensive care unit at Holston Valley Medical Center in Kingsport and treating the region’s highest risk babies at Niswonger Children’s Hospital on the campus of Johnson City Medical Center.

Ballad announced those plans last fall, and the change was approved May 1 by the Tennessee Department of Health.

“A steering committee and work groups including Ballad Health team members, OB physicians and neonatologists have been working thoughtfully to develop plans for safe and smooth transition and this work is expected to be complete by Sept. 1,” according to a written statement from Ballad Health.

The change is not without opposition. A group of Kingsport area residents continues to sit outside Holston Valley around the clock to protest this change and plans to downgrade the Holston Valley hospital’s trauma center. Protesters claim eliminating NICU services at Kingsport will endanger the lives of high-risk babies from the greater Kingsport area and parts of Southwest Virginia.

Babies will continue to be delivered in Kingsport and other Ballad facilities — including high-risk babies — with no expected impact on existing physician practices, according to Ballad. An “advanced neonatal care team will remain in the Kingsport market to assist with any babies born with unexpected complications.”

“Babies expected to require NICU services will be scheduled for delivery at the Palmer Family Birth Center at Niswonger Children’s Hospital,” the release states. “High-risk babies born at another Ballad Health facility can be quickly and safely transported to the Level III NICU at Niswonger by our highly trained and experienced neonatal transport team.”

Ballad officials say the changes will improve outcomes because it will centralize all subspecialists into a single facility to provide optimum care. They also pledged to support the families whose children are undergoing NICU care.

In addition, the statement said all Holston Valley NICU nurses and team members can continue working for Ballad.

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