Seven healthcare workers in Wisconsin may begin their new positions at an Ascension health system hospital, a court ruled, after their former employer attempted to block them from transitioning weeks after they filed their notice to leave.
Three nurses and four radiology technicians who worked at ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Neenah were offered new jobs at Ascension NE-St. Elizabeth Campus in Appleton in December, which they accepted after ThedaCare declined to match Ascension’s terms.
The seven employees made up the majority of ThedaCare’s 11-member interventional radiology and cardiovascular team, according to the New York Times.
In late December, they alerted ThedaCare management to their plans to end employment on January 14, with a planned start date of January 24 at the Ascension hospital.
Late last week — almost a full week after the employees’ end date — ThedaCare filed a motion for a temporary restraining order and injunction, asking a state circuit court to block the workers from transitioning to their new jobs. Judge Mark J. McGinnis, of Outagamie County Circuit Court, signed the restraining order, citing ThedaCare’s claim that the region would lack substantial healthcare if the employees left the system.
However, after a hearing on Monday, McGinnis dismissed the restraining order, allowing the workers to move on to Ascension NE-St. Elizabeth. ThedaCare’s arguments were not substantial enough to uphold the injunction, ruled McGinnis. The system can rely on staffing plans that are already in place to address potential care issues, and the region will not benefit from the workers’ care if they continue to be unemployed, as they did not plan to return to ThedaCare even if the injunction had been upheld, according to their testimony.
The broader case, in which “ThedaCare argues that Ascension inappropriately group-recruited these employees,” will go forward in court, according to the Appleton Post-Crescent.
“ThedaCare has only itself to blame for failing to maintain a competitive working environment for its medical staff, opting instead to underpay its essential workers and even refusing to make a matching offer to these employees when given ample opportunity to do so,” wrote attorneys for Ascension in a brief filed in opposition to the ThedaCare filing.
“With this frantic, last-minute lawsuit, ThedaCare attempts to convert its own poor management into a disruptive personal emergency for everyone — anyone — but itself: Ascension, this Court, and (worst of all) seven essential health care workers who, until Friday, believed they were starting new jobs on Monday morning,” they argued. “For a hospital truly scrambling to provide patient care, ThedaCare’s fully prepared lawsuit, emergency injunction motion, and media statement came extremely soon after.”
ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Neenah, just outside of Appleton, is a level II trauma center, while Ascension NE-St. Elizabeth is a level III center, the Post-Crescent reported. ThedaCare argued that losing so many employees from the same team at once would deprive patients of the care provided specifically at level II trauma centers.
However, there are two level II trauma centers in nearby Green Bay, the opposition brief noted. “St. Elizabeth already offers the medical services at issue,” attorneys for Ascension wrote. “Green Bay is and will remain available as a backup option — no need for diversion to Milwaukee or Madison [which are further away]. In short, this emergency is entirely of ThedaCare’s making because ThedaCare is making it up.”
It is unclear if the seven workers have since begun their jobs at Ascension, though the Post-Crescent reported that they were free to start the day after the hearing.
Ascension did not return queries for comment. MedPage Today located contact information for two of the workers; one did not return a request for comment, while the other wrote, “At this time we have been asked to not comment further on the current lawsuit as it is still active within the judicial system.”
In an emailed statement to MedPage Today, attributed to Lynn Detterman, president of South Region at ThedaCare, a spokesperson wrote, “We made significant efforts to try to work with Ascension Wisconsin to resolve the situation in a way that protects the community’s access to this critical care and honors the decision of the team members who decided to leave our organization. We know this situation has put the team members who decided to leave ThedaCare in the middle of a difficult situation. Our goal was always to create a short-term orderly transition, not to force team members to continue working at ThedaCare.”
Ryan Basen reports for MedPage’s enterprise & investigative team. He often writes about issues concerning the practice and business of medicine, nurses, cannabis and psychedelic medicine, and sports medicine. Send story tips to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow