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Workers at a Wisconsin hospital sought new jobs with higher pay — then the hospital sued to stop them from leaving

Workers could not start new jobs at an Ascension location in Wisconsin due to a county court’s temporary restraining order.

Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images

  • A Wisconsin court granted a hospital’s request to block 7 healthcare workers from starting jobs at a competitor.
  • ThedaCare said its workers leaving has strained the hospital as COVID-19 cases rise in Wisconsin.
  • 1 in 5 healthcare workers quit their job during the pandemic, some due to poor work environments.

A Wisconsin court has granted a hospital’s request to block seven healthcare workers from leaving to start new jobs at a competitor.

ThedaCare, a hospital in Appleton, Wisconsin, asked the court for a temporary restraining order to prevent the employees from accepting jobs at Ascension Northeast Wisconsin, a competitor hospital.

Mark J. McGinnis, a judge for the Outagamie County Circuit Court, granted ThedaCare the temporary restraining order on January 20. Attorneys representing both hospitals agreed to meet the morning of January 24 to see if they could come to another resolution.

The granted order states Ascension must either give back ThedaCare a radiology technician and a registered nurse out of the seven workers resigning, or cease the hiring of all seven workers until ThedaCare has hired replacements.

The Appleton Post-Crescent’s Madeline Heim reported ThedaCare said in a complaint that Ascension had “poached” the hospital’s workers as the region struggles amid a rise in COVID-19 cases. ThedaCare put non-urgent elective surgeries on hold last week due to both a record number of COVID-19 patients and a high absent rate of team members due to illness.

But Ascension released a statement that said the ThedaCare employees applied for open job postings without prior recruitment.

“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 in a statement to a local ABC affiliate. “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.”

Timothy Breister, one of the ThedaCare employees who received a job offerv from Ascension, submitted a letter to the judge that said he and his coworkers applied to Ascension because they believed it provided a better work/life balance, according to the Post-Crescent.

—Madeline Heim (@madeline_heim) January 22, 2022

ThedaCare and Ascension Northeast Wisconsin were unavailable for additional comment.

In the years since the pandemic began, some healthcare workers said they felt unsupported by hospital administrations. For example, nurses recently told Insider their employers were threatening them with pay cuts if they did not come into work days after testing positive for COVID-19. 

Research from the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing shows nurse burnout and job dissatisfaction stems from poor work conditions, characterized by hospitals that don’t allow nurses to have a say in their practice, disorganized work environments, and limited resources.

A Morning Consult study found one in five healthcare workers quit their jobs since COVID-19 hit the US — a grim labor crisis that some analysts worry could upend the healthcare system. 

Got a tip? Contact reporter Allana Akhtar via email ([email protected]), or Twitter DM (@allanaakh). We can keep sources anonymous. Use a non-work device to reach out. PR pitches by email only.

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