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In July, Ballad official Mark Leonard said that having three hospitals within a 15-mile radius ‘is not sustainable.’ By then, Mountain View’s surgical staff had already relocated to Big Stone Gap.

Ballad Health has submitted a plan to close the emergency room at Mountain View Regional Hospital.

Thursday morning, Ballad Health released an update to employees on its plans for Wise County and Norton. Ballad states that it has requested Virginia authorities’ permission to:

• Move patient and critical care services from Mountain View to Lonesome Pine Hospital and combine the two hospitals’ medical/surgical and intensive care units.

• Integrate emergency room services at Norton Community Hospital and cease operation of the ER at Mountain View.

According to the update, one of the factors leading to the proposed changes is the low number of ICU patients in the county. The document states that fewer than eight ICU patients were seen per day and that number was split between the three hospitals.

Another factor is the low number of patients seen at the Mountain View ER. “Last year, Norton Community Hospital saw four times as many ER visits as Mountain View. The emergency department at Mountain View is now only seeing about 18 patients per day. The two hospitals are only 2 miles apart. It makes sense to combine these Emergency Departments at Norton Community Hospital.”

The update goes on to say that Ballad is working with the state on options to expand and enhance the long-term care and skilled nursing care that is offered at Mountain View.

Other plans include upgrading the radiation oncology equipment at the Southwest Virginia Cancer Center in Norton.

Also planned is introduction of new behavioral health services to the area. Ballad and community partners, including the Wise County Visioning Committee, will be working to identify the best location among the three hospitals for the service.

Members of the county visioning committee include:

• Lonesome Pine Hospital Board Chair Mike Allen.

• Norton Community Hospital physician and board member Dr. Matt Cusano.

• Wise County Administrator Mike Hatfield.

• University of Virginia’s College at Wise Chancellor Donna Henry.

• Del. Terry Kilgore.

• Norton Vice Mayor Mark Caruso.

• LPH board vice chair and Wise County Supervisor John Schoolcraft.

• Jessica Swinney, Wise County emergency management.

• Norton Community board Chair Jibber Ward.

• Mountain Empire Community College President Kris Westover.

• LPH chief of staff and family practice physician Dr. Michael Wheatley.

Pending state approval, the changes will be implemented beginning in the fall. The document states, “If the state approves our plan, we will have a 60- to 90-day time period before we can begin implementing changes.”

While Ballad stated that more changes will be necessary, it reiterated that all of the facilities will remain open in some capacity. All services will remain, it said, “even though where and how some services are provided may change.”

Further, the update states: “These decisions were not made quickly, and these improvements reflect months of thoughtful research and conversation to determine the right next steps for healthcare in Wise County. These decisions are motivated solely by the need to protect patient safety, improve patient care, and bring needed services to Wise County. Ballad Health is committed to Wise County, and we believe that by combining our talented physicians and team members, along with the right resources and equipment, we can greatly improve patient safety, provide adequate staffing and enhance the quality of patient care.”

The document notes that employees will want to know how these changes affect them. It states: “It’s important for team members to know that our workforce in Wise County is needed and valued, and jobs will be available for team members who wish to remain with Ballad Health. Understand that nothing changes today.”