Monday’s Wisconsin court ruling lifted an order temporarily preventing seven employees of ThedaCare (a major regional hospital system) from leaving to take up new jobs in another health care network. This was until the judge could find replacements.
Workers were able start their new jobs with Ascension Northeast Wisconsin when the temporary injunction was thrown out. Ascension was sued by ThedaCare last week to prevent workers from leaving. This unusual labor dispute was triggered by twin crises in the health care sector: a shortage, which many workers are demanding higher wages, as well as a raging coronavirus epidemic.
Ascension Northeast Wisconsin said in a statement before Monday’s hearing that ThedaCare “had an opportunity but declined to make competitive counter offers to retain its former employees.”
The employees, members of ThedaCare’s interventional radiology and cardiovascular team, were at-will employees and were not contractually obligated to stay with ThedaCare for a fixed time, according to Ascension, which is part of one of the largest Catholic health care systems in the United States.
ThedaCare, which operates seven hospitals and provides care to more than 600,000 people annually, said in its lawsuit that it was seeking to “protect the community” by temporarily retaining the employees, who accepted new jobs with Ascension in December and were supposed to start on Monday.
It added that the employees, who together make up a majority of an 11-person team, provide “vital care for critically ill patients” and that Ascension “should have known that this action would decimate ThedaCare’s ability to provide critical care” to trauma and stroke victims in the Fox River Valley, a three-county stretch from Green Bay to Oshkosh.
Lynn Detterman, a senior vice president of ThedaCare South Region, said in a statement on Monday, “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,” she said.
David Muth, a lawyer for Ascension, said in a motion filed on Monday that ThedaCare was blaming others for its own mistakes, and that it had attempted to turn its “poor management” into “a disruptive personal emergency for everyone — anyone — but itself.”
Last week, Judge Mark McGinnis of Outagamie County Circuit Court granted ThedaCare’s request for a temporary restraining order blocking the employees from starting at Ascension this week as planned, and told the lawyers for both parties on Friday to seek a deal, The Post-Crescent of Appleton, Wis., reported.
The lawsuit was filed because hospitals across the country, including Wisconsin, are having difficulty retaining workers during the pandemic.
Joe Veenstra is a labor and employment lawyer based in La Crosse. He said that ThedaCare was trying to interfere with free markets and keep employees happy without paying them more.
“We’ve definitely entered an alternate universe,” Mr. Veenstra said, adding: “Now we have managements incapable of controlling labor and asking courts to prevent the free market from happening. It’s just, we’re living in an upside down world right now.”
It was not clear how long ThedaCare wanted the seven employees to stay. In its lawsuit, the hospital system stated that it wanted Ascension either to lend one radiology technician and one nurse each day to ThedaCare until it hires adequate staff or to halt its hiring of employees until replacements can be found.
Mr. Veenstra said that for ThedaCare “to restrict their employment in this way, it’s very, very unusual.”
ThedaCare says in the lawsuit that in order to retain the Level II trauma center status at ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Neenah — the second-highest category a hospital can achieve — it must be able to perform interventional radiology procedures 24 hours a day. It claims that this is impossible to maintain if employees leave.
If the hospital is unable to provide round-the-clock interventional radiology care, such as restoring blood flow to a patient’s brain after a stroke, it would “risk the withdrawal of its Level II trauma center verification” and be forced to transport patients elsewhere, the lawsuit states.
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Timothy Breister, one of the employees mentioned in the lawsuit, said in a letter to Judge McGinnis that Ascension “in no way recruited any of the seven of us,” as ThedaCare has argued.
Instead, Mr. Breister said, one member of the team “received an outstanding offer not just in pay but also a better work/life balance,” inspiring the others to apply.
After they received offers from Ascension, the seven employees asked ThedaCare’s management to match Ascension’s offer, Mr. Breister said. He said they were told that “by matching the offers, the long term expense to ThedaCare was not worth the short term cost and that no counter offer would be made.”
He said that patient care would not suffer because ThedaCare workers would now be working at Ascension. He and the other employees were unable to reach him on Monday.
Ms. Detterman, of ThedaCare, stated in an affidavit she believed that if the employees quit, the hospital would have the need to divert patients from facilities as far as Madison and Milwaukee, both which are approximately 100 miles away.
“Unfortunately, it is foreseeable that some patients may die because ThedaCare cannot timely treat them without interventional radiology and cardiovascular services,” she said.
She also said that it was more difficult to divert patients due to the pandemic. Hospitals have been stretched by increased case numbers.
Wisconsin’s health care workers are experiencing a surge in cases, despite the fact that 63 percent of eligible patients are fully vaccinated for Covid-19. According to a New York Times database, the daily average number of cases in the state on Sunday was more than 21,000
Mr. Muth, the lawyer for Ascension, said in his motion that the company had posted the jobs in part to address the “same staffing shortages affecting the entire health care industry during the pandemic.”
Source: NY Times