Warnock questions Wellstar's physician contracts amid Atlanta Medical Center's shutdown

WellStar took over Atlanta Medical Center, shown in 2011, in its 2016 acquisition of five Tenet Healthcare hospitals in the area. The Marietta-based health system said it will explore a variety of strategic options for Atlanta Medical Center, which experts say could include a joint venture or even a sale.

Daniel Mayer / wikimedia commons

Georgia U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock is urging Wellstar Health System not to stand in the way of Atlanta Medical Center employees taking jobs with other companies. The senator sent a letter to its CEO ahead of Wellstar’s shutdown of the hospital’s Emergency Department Friday.

In the letter to Wellstar Health System President and CEO Candice Saunders, Warnock expressed concern that Wellstar may enforce employment noncompete provisions that could prevent AMC physicians from working for other area hospitals.

Such physician provisions are common in health care, barring doctors from working for a competing practice in proximity to their previous employer for a specific amount of time.

Warnock is asking Wellstar not to enforce noncompete clauses as it prepares to close Atlanta Medical Center, saying the closure is expected to further strain the metro area’s already under-resourced health system as other hospitals accept AMC patients.

“I’ve made countless visits to Wellstar’s Atlanta Medical Center facility, so I’ve seen firsthand the incredible dedication of its physicians and medical professors who serve the Atlanta community,” Warnock said. “It would be wrong to allow any non-compete clauses in Atlanta Medical Center’s employee contracts to take qualified physicians out of the Atlanta area as the hospital is closing its doors, while simultaneously preventing those hospitals from hiring Atlanta Medical Center physicians.”

Wellstar released a statement saying, “every physician employment contract is different, which is why we are connecting with doctors one-on-one about the solution that is right for them. This direct contact allows us to explain Wellstar’s position and the support we will provide to those wishing to remain in the community, as well as helping us avoid any confusion with physicians in other areas of the state who agree to employment contracts with us. Coordinating with our physicians and team members directly also allows us to keep our public statements focused on supporting the community and ensuring they continue to have the care they need as we safely wind down services at AMC.”

Wellstar said its other clinical staff, including nurses, are not subject to non-compete agreements. 

“We also want to clarify that members of the AMC medical staff are not restricted from joining other hospital medical staffs. We have already taken important steps to support these physicians through this transition, including partnering with our peer health systems to provide all physicians with information about how to obtain privileges at these facilities.”

In a separate statement, Wellstar said more than 1,400 AMC staff members have accepted jobs at other Wellstar facilities. The company is also contracting with consulting firm Korn Ferry to offer Wellstar employees assistance with their job search.

The century-old Atlanta Medical Center hospital is slated to completely shut down next month.