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Wisconsin Hospital Sues to Block Healthcare Workers from Getting Better Jobs


With so many hospitals running short on staff, many nurses now have the luxury of looking for work elsewhere. This can be a great time to relocate to another facility or look for a higher paying job as a nurse. But leaving your current hospital can put your employer in a difficult decision.

A Wisconsin hospital recently filed a restraining order to stop a group of healthcare providers from working for a competitor hospital. But the suit has been tossed out in court, leaving the providers to work where they please.

Not Letting Go

ThedaCare in Appleton, WI filed its motion last Thursday with Outagamie County Circuit Court Judge Mark McGinnis, asking the court to block seven of its employees from starting work at Ascension Northeast Wisconsin, a competitor hospital until ThedaCare could find replacement workers.

The healthcare workers in question are a part of an 11-member interventional radiology and cardiovascular team, which works to stop bleeding in targeted areas during a traumatic injury or restore blood flow to the brain during a stroke, as well as one registered nurse. None of these workers were under contract, which means they weren’t obligated to stay at ThedaCare for a certain period of time.

In a complaint, ThedaCare wrote that Ascension “shockingly” chose to “poach” the employees during a stressful time for the healthcare industry. More patients are now hospitalized with COVID-19 in the area than ever before, according to the latest data from the Wisconsin Hospital Association. ThedaCare recently had to cancel elective procedures due to staff shortages. The company said it simply couldn’t afford to part ways with the specialists until they could find replacements.

However, Ascension refuted the claim that it poached the workers from ThedaCare. The hospital said the seven providers applied to job listings on their own accord. Ascension was under the impression that ThedaCare had a chance to make a counteroffer to get the workers to stay but declined to offer more money.

Attorney Sean Bosack, who represented ThedaCare, argued that losing these workers poses a direct threat to the health of the region because the health system’s Neenah hospital is a hub for high-level stroke care and care for patients with traumatic injuries.

ThedaCare’s Neenah facility is a Comprehensive Stroke Center, which means it needs to have specialists available 24/7. Ascension St. Elizabeth is a Primary Stroke Center, which means it doesn’t need to have those staff available around the clock.

Bosack argued that a stroke patient could die during the time it takes to transfer them to another hospital.

Attorney David Muth, who represented Ascension, said the hospital was capable of caring for high-level stroke patients, if necessary, even though they are not designated at the same level as ThedaCare.

Muth also said that ThedaCare had weeks to come up with counter offers to keep their employees or figure out alternate staffing solutions, but instead chose to initiate court action days before the workers were set to start at Ascension, resulting in “a mess of ThedaCare’s own making.”

“It is Ascension Wisconsin’s understanding that ThedaCare had an opportunity but declined to make competitive counter offers to retain its former employees,” the hospital said. “Given the unfortunate decision by ThedaCare to file a lawsuit to enjoin competitive labor practices, we will not be commenting further as this matter proceeds through litigation.”

Muth added that Ascension offered the nurses a better benefits package that ThedaCare couldn’t match.

Timothy Breister, one of the nurses in question, said he accepted a job offer with Ascension that offered more pay and “a better work/life balance.”

When ThedaCare had a chance to make a counteroffer, he said “the long-term expense to ThedaCare was not worth the short-term cost,” regardless of how much ThedaCare was willing to offer.

ThedaCare’s restraining order would have stopped the nurses from starting work at Ascension on Monday. Judge McGinnis initially allowed the order to move forward on January 20. He told both health systems that they should try to find a solution that works for both parties.

“To me, that is a poor result for everyone involved,” McGinnis said.

However, the judge threw out the restraining order on Monday after the parties failed to reach an agreement. The seven healthcare workers are now free to start working at Ascension.

Steven Briggs
Steven Briggs is a healthcare writer for Scrubs Magazine, hailing from Brooklyn, NY. With both of his parents working in the healthcare industry, Steven writes about the various issues and concerns facing the industry today.

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