Judge lifts injunction in ThedaCare, Ascension worker dispute

Seven of ThedaCare’s 11 stroke care team members are free to work at St. Elizabeth Hospital.
Published: Jan. 24, 2022 at 10:12 AM CST|Updated: Jan. 24, 2022 at 10:26 PM CST
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OUTAGAMIE COUNTY, Wis. (WBAY) - An Outagamie County judge has lifted an injunction, freeing seven members of ThedaCare’s accredited stroke care team to take jobs with Ascension Wisconsin.

Judge Mark McGinnis said, “Based up on the testimony, the exhibits that have come in that ThedaCare has not satisfied its burden that it will likely suffer irreputable harm without an injunction.”

Seven of the stroke care team’s 11 members accepted work at St. Elizabeth Hospital. They were supposed to start their new jobs on Friday. However, ThedaCare filed for an injunction, claiming Ascension recruited the employees. The lawsuit also sought a 90-day partnership with Ascension Wisconsin until ThedaCare could fill those positions.

The judge heard from several witnesses in an hours-long hearing Monday.

ThedaCare’s former head of trauma testified about the impact losing the majority of the interventional radiology and cardiovascular or IRC team would mean to its Neenah hospital. Dr. Ray Georgen said, “What I’ve been told, and it’s more hearsay than anything, with that number of people departing that that would have a major impact on the Level II trauma center to deliver these types of things that we’ve talked about this morning.”

The judge also heard from the employees themselves who said they were not poached by Ascension Wisconsin. Speaking with Action 2 News last week, one member of the team said they applied for a job with Ascension Wisconsin and received a much better offer than expected, which led others on the team to apply.

They told the judge changing jobs was not just about money but a better quality of life, not being on-call as often working at St. Elizabeth, and feeling appreciated for their work.

“It was in my opinion life changing money for my family in offering a work-life balance that created more time with my children and husband,” said Kailey Young, a former ThedaCare employee.

Young, a former ThedaCare employee, said, ”It’s hard to even collect my thoughts in this moment because this is where, it’s flooding me with emotion, rather than being able to think straight. So, the respect that we have not received until this day, hearing how magical what we do is, but nobody cared about that when we went and asked for a counteroffer to stay. It’s just a lot.”

“We were cordial, and we were trying to work with them and help provide coverage, but when this lawsuit came through that they would rather have us be unemployed and jobless than work for a competitor my willingness to help them out died,” former ThedaCare employee Michael Preissner said.

Employees said they tried to negotiate, and a meeting took place in late December.

“I think there was maybe a thought that they were about to get into a bidding war and decided that would not be in the best interest of our other employees,” said Lynn Detterman, ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Neenah president and ThedaCare South Region senior vice president.

ThedaCare operates the only Level II trauma and comprehensive stroke care unit in the Fox Valley. It says losing these workers could impact its ability to have people on call 24/7, which is necessary for accreditation.

Judge Mark McGinnis granted the temporary restraining order against Ascension Friday reading it must, “make available to ThedaCare one invasive radiology technician and one registered nurse of the individuals resigning their employment with ThedaCare to join Ascension, with their support to include on-call responsibilities or; cease the hiring of the individuals referenced until ThedaCare has hired adequate staff to replace the departing IRC team members.”

Again, that injunction is no longer in effect.

A statement from an Ascension Wisconsin spokesperson after the ruling reads, “We are pleased with the court’s decision to dismiss the temporary restraining order preventing seven individuals from beginning employment with Ascension Wisconsin. We welcome our newest associates. We will continue to support our healthcare workers and staff and we thank them for their tireless dedication to providing high quality, compassionate care to our communities.”

Detterman released a statement Monday evening:

“The issue has always been about protecting our community’s access to the highest level of Trauma and Stroke Care provided in the Fox Valley region at ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Neenah. 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.

“ThedaCare’s commitment to providing patients access to exceptional, high-quality care is unwavering. 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.

“As we have been, we will continue working night and day to ensure ongoing access in the short-term and have secured coverage in these areas. We will also continue the significant, robust work that is underway to secure a long-term solution and continued community access for these critical care services so people can get the care they need in their community when minutes count.”

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