ThedaCare asks court to temporarily stop 7 stroke, trauma employees from moving to Ascension

Madeline Heim
Appleton Post-Crescent

Note: The judge dismissed a temporary restraining order Monday and allowed the employees to start their new jobs. Click on this story to learn more about the reason for his decision.

APPLETON - ThedaCare officials are asking Outagamie County judge Mark McGinnis to pause the recruitment of seven of their employees to Ascension Northeast Wisconsin, arguing the move will endanger patients in the region who need treatment for strokes and traumatic injuries. 

In a Thursday interview with The Post-Crescent, ThedaCare leaders said Ascension recruited a group of ThedaCare employees from its interventional radiology and cardiovascular team. That team performs procedures to stop bleeding in targeted areas during a traumatic injury or restore blood flow to the brain in the case of a stroke.

Seven of 11 employees on that team accepted offers with Ascension and will start there next week if the court does not act, said Lynn Detterman, ThedaCare's senior vice president for its south region. 

ThedaCare filed for a temporary injunction Thursday, which would halt the employees' move to Ascension for 90 days to give ThedaCare time to look for replacement staff. Detterman said ThedaCare tried to resolve the matter first by speaking with Ascension but were unsuccessful. 

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Without more time, ThedaCare leaders say they could struggle to treat trauma and stroke patients locally, which could mean sending a severely injured person hours away before they can get care. ThedaCare's Neenah hospital is the only Level II trauma center — which can provide higher levels of care for traumatic injuries — between Green Bay and the Milwaukee area. 

"There's only a small crew of people who have this type of expertise, so trying to backfill, or recruit, or substitute people in is not as easy as it sounds," said Dr. Ray Georgen, ThedaCare's trauma medical director.

Detterman said the move comes at an especially difficult time, as Fox Valley hospitals struggle with an influx of COVID-19 patients — the highest numbers since March 2020, according to data from the Wisconsin Hospital Association. In more normal circumstances, patients could count on being able to be transferred quickly to a hospital with more resources if needed, she said, something that's not guaranteed today. 

"To be focused on this (court action) instead of (the pandemic) is just so disappointing," she said.  

A statement from an Ascension Wisconsin spokesperson said:

"Workforce shortages are one of the many stresses healthcare systems have faced during this pandemic. Many healthcare systems, including Ascension Wisconsin, continue to actively recruit healthcare workers. Contrary to the allegations in the ThedaCare lawsuit, Ascension Wisconsin did not initiate the recruitment of the ThedaCare employees. Rather, the employees applied for open job postings. To the extent such individuals met the job qualifications, Ascension Wisconsin made offers of employment to the individuals who applied as a part of Ascension Wisconsin’s routine process of hiring qualified associates at a fair and just wage. It is Ascension Wisconsin’s understanding that ThedaCare had an opportunity but declined to make competitive counter offers to retain its former employees.

"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."

Health care workers are in high demand and short supply nationally, as the stresses of COVID-19 and other work worries have driven them out of the field — about one in five have left their jobs since the pandemic began. 

Contact reporter Madeline Heim at 920-996-7266 or Follow her on Twitter at @madeline_heim