Ballad protestors retreat from Ravine, vow to continue focus on 'saving healthcare'

J. H. Osborne • Jan 14, 2020 at 12:00 AM

KINGSPORT — The tents are gone. The protestors say they’re moving forward with other initiatives.

Monday afternoon, Dani Cook issued a written statement “on behalf of the Rally for the Valley Peaceful Protestors.”

“After 14 months protesting the state-creation of a medical monopoly with the last 257 days being spent outside Holston Valley Medical Center, the Rally for the Valley Peaceful Protest has decided to focus its efforts in a grass roots movement to establish a Hospital Authority,” Cook’s statement began.

At least some local governmental officials believe state law does not allow for creation of a hospital authority. They’ve cited portions of state law regarding development of such authorities that set a minimum population of 200,000 within a city where an authority would be created.

Sections of that state law include the following definitions:

• “ ‘Creating municipality’ means any city or metropolitan government having a population of not less than two hundred thousand (200,000), according to the 1970 federal census or any subsequent federal census, or any county in which any such city shall be situated, that shall create an authority pursuant to this chapter.”

• “ ‘Governing body’ means the chief legislative body of any creating or participating municipality; in counties having the commission form of government “chief legislative body” means the county legislative body.”

• “ ‘Participating municipality’ means any city, town or county, which city, town or county, pursuant to a resolution of its governing body and an agreement with the creating municipality, shall have sold, leased, dedicated, donated or otherwise conveyed its hospitals to the authority for operation by the authority in order to make such hospital an operational part of its health care system.

The Wellmont-Mountain States merger that created Ballad Health is governed in Tennessee by the Tennessee Department of Health and in Virginia by the Virginia Department of Health.

In addition to noting the protest has brought local, regional, and national attention to our region, Cook’s statement included:

• “Our presence over the last 257 days has been incredibly beneficial to increasing awareness to the issues resulting from the downgrades and eliminations to services by Ballad Health.”

• Moving forward “our” initiatives will be: town halls and community forums throughout the Ballad Health geographic service region; meetings with current and prospective political representatives to discuss legislation around the creation of a hospital authority to replace the Ballad Health board of directors (held our first meeting last week with State Rep. Gary Hicks); grass roots canvassing to inform our neighbors and community members about our changing healthcare environment and possible solutions; and “continued research into the businesses, businessmen, and politicians involved in changing our healthcare and regionalism efforts.”

• “To be clear, the choice to pack up our camp outside of Holston Valley was made by our Peaceful Protest family with no outside influence or involvement.”

• “Our focus is on saving healthcare for the region and we are determined to continue in those efforts.”

A Ballad Health spokesman told the Times News the company had nothing to add to its previous statements on this issue.

Last week, due to a ruling by a city judge, the legal battle between Kingsport and four Ballad Health protesters was extended for another month.

The protesters had used canopies and tarps for shelter, setting up on the right of way — in the grassy area between the sidewalk and West Ravine Road in front of Ballad Health’s Holston Valley Medical Center. In November, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen amended a city ordinance to prohibit temporary or permanent structures from being placed on the public right of way. Last month, four of the protesters were issued citations for violating this ordinance. Those cited were Cook and Tonya Ferguson of Kingsport, and Elminia Dougherty and Jamie Farris of Church Hill.

A hearing on the citations was scheduled to take place in city court last week. Kingsport filed a motion last month to continue the matter until Feb. 12. The protesters filed motions opposing the continuance and later filed their own motion to dismiss. City Court Judge Curt Rose granted the city's motion to continue. Rose also ordered there would be no further citations or fines against the protesters and that Kingsport has until Feb. 5 to file a response to the protesters' motion to dismiss.

Rose asked Cook about a comment she made to the media in December — that if not for the passage of this right-of-way ordinance, the protest would have wound down by Christmas.

Cook said there was a plan on transforming and progressing the protest and that there have been conversations of what that would look like. Cook continued by saying a repeal of the right-of-way ordinance is irrelevant at this point.



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