Judge lifts order preventing Wisconsin hospital workers from starting new jobs

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A Wisconsin judge on Monday lifted an order that had temporarily prevented seven employees of ThedaCare, a major regional hospital system, from leaving for new jobs with another health care network until he could find people to replace them.

The rejection of a temporary injunction paved the way for workers to begin their new jobs with Ascension Northeast Wisconsin. Last week, ThedaCare sued Ascension, seeking to temporarily stop workers from leaving and sparking an unusual labor dispute rooted in a twin crisis rocking the healthcare sector: a shortage of workers, many of whom are demanding higher wages. high, and a raging coronavirus pandemic. .

Ascension Northeast Wisconsin said in a statement ahead of 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 Cardiovascular and Interventional Radiology team, were employees at will and were not contractually obligated to stay with ThedaCare for any specific length of time, according to Ascension, which is part of one of the largest Catholic health care systems in the United States. States.

ThedaCare, which operates seven hospitals and treats more than 600,000 people a year, said in its lawsuit it was seeking to “protect the community” by temporarily withholding employees, who took new jobs with Ascension in December and were supposed to start on Monday.

He added that the employees, who together make up the majority of an 11-person team, provide “life-saving care to critically ill patients” and that Ascension “should have known that this action would decimate ThedaCare’s ability to provide care. reviews” to trauma and stroke victims in the Fox River Valley, a three-county stretch from Green Bay to Oshkosh.

Lynn Detterman, senior vice president of ThedaCare South Region, said in a statement Monday, “We know this situation has placed the team members who have decided to leave ThedaCare in the midst of a difficult situation.”

“Our goal has always been to create an orderly transition in the short term, not to force team members to continue working at ThedaCare,” she said.

David Muth, an attorney for Ascension, said in a motion filed Monday that ThedaCare blamed others for its own mistakes and tried to turn its “mismanagement” into “a disruptive personal emergency for everyone – n anyone – but himself.

Outagamie County Circuit Court Judge Mark McGinnis last week granted ThedaCare’s request for a temporary restraining order preventing employees from starting Ascension this week as scheduled, and told attorneys for the two parties to seek an agreement, The Post-Crescent of Appleton, Wisconsin, reported.

The lawsuit was filed as hospital systems across the country, including in Wisconsin, struggle to retain workers during the pandemic.

But Joe Veenstra, a labor and employment attorney in La Crosse, Wisconsin, said the lawsuit was an unusual and high-profile attempt by ThedaCare to interfere with the free market and keep employees without having to their pay higher wages.

“We’ve definitely entered an alternate universe,” Mr. Veenstra said, adding, “Now we have managements unable to control the work and ask the courts to stop the free market from happening. It’s just that we live in an upside down world right now.

It was unclear how long ThedaCare wanted to retain the seven employees. The hospital system said in its lawsuit that it wants Ascension to lend an X-ray technician and a nurse to ThedaCare each a day until it hires adequate staff or suspend its hiring of employees until that replacements can be found.

Mr Veenstra said for ThedaCare ‘to restrict their employment in this way is very, very unusual’.

ThedaCare states in the lawsuit that to maintain Level II trauma center status at ThedaCare-Neenah Regional Medical Center — the second-highest category a hospital can attain — it must be able to perform radiology procedures. intervention 24 hours a day. It is impossible to maintain if employees leave, he says.

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 having its audit of the patient withdrawn.” level II trauma center” and would be required to transport patients elsewhere, the lawsuit states.

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 us seven,” as ThedaCare argued.

Instead, Mr Breister said, one team member “received an exceptional offer not only in terms of salary, but also a better work-life balance”, urging others to apply.

After receiving offers from Ascension, the seven employees asked ThedaCare management to match Ascension’s offer, Breister said. He said they were told that “by matching the offers, the long-term expense for ThedaCare was not worth the short-term cost and no counter-offer would be made.”

He added that patient care would not be compromised because the services workers provided to ThedaCare would now be provided to Ascension. He and the other employees could not be reached immediately on Monday.

Ms. Detterman of ThedaCare said in an affidavit that if employees left, the hospital would have to divert patients to facilities as far away as Milwaukee or Madison, both about 100 miles away.

“Unfortunately, some patients are expected to die because ThedaCare cannot treat them in a timely manner without interventional and cardiovascular radiology services,” she said.

She added that diverting patients has become more difficult during the pandemic, which has strained hospitals as the number of cases has risen.

Healthcare workers in Wisconsin, where 63% of eligible people are fully vaccinated against Covid-19, are dealing with an increase in cases. On Sunday, the daily average for new cases in the state was more than 21,000, according to a New York Times database.

Mr. Muth, Ascension’s attorney, said in his motion that the company had released the jobs in part to address the “same staffing shortages that are affecting the entire healthcare industry during the pandemic.”

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