Physicians at 3 Pennsylvania hospitals mull legal action after working weeks without pay

Emergency room physicians at three Pennsylvania hospitals operated by Ontario, Calif.-based Prime Healthcare are considering legal action to recoup lost wages, according to The Inquirer.

Here are seven things to know:

1. At the end of October, Prime ended its contract with Brentwood, Tenn.-based Legacy Physician Partners. Legacy employed the ER physicians who worked in Prime's three Pennsylvania hospitals: Lower Bucks Hospital in Bristol, Roxborough Memorial Hospital in Philadelphia and Suburban Community Hospital in East Norriton.

2. In October, Lower Bucks Hospital's medical director sent an email to physicians saying Legacy had not paid him in September. However, he assured physicians that Prime, Legacy and Uniondale, N.Y.-based Progressive Emergency Physicians, the staffing agency that took over for Legacy, were working on a payment plan. The physicians kept showing up for their shifts, according to The Philadelphia Tribune.

3. On Nov. 15, Legacy failed to pay physicians at the three hospitals for the time they had worked. Although Progressive Emergency Physicians agreed to cover the physicians' October wages if they entered a long-term contract with PEP, some of the physicians didn't like the contract terms and refused to sign.

4. Physicians who chose not to sign with PEP are absorbing the losses. Gerald O'Malley, DO, who formerly worked in Lower Bucks Hospital's ER, estimates he is owed $20,000.

"In my line of work, people's lives are at risk, but I don't care who you are: a plumber, a doctor, or someone at Wawa," Dr. O'Malley told The Inquirer. "If you work for a company that says, 'We're not going to pay for you those six weeks, unless you agree to work for another company at 20 percent less salary,' I think any reasonable person would say that's not fair."

5. In an email to Becker's in November, Prime said the ERs remain open with all shifts fully staffed, and Prime has met all of its obligations, including payment, with Legacy and Progressive Emergency Physicians.

"Like most hospitals, we contract with established medical groups to provide 24-hour coverage of our ERs. The contract with Legacy for our emergency room coverage was terminated due to our understanding that Legacy was not financially able to continue full coverage of our ERs," Prime said. "Prime Healthcare worked quickly to onboard Progressive Emergency Physicians as the new medical group to ensure that emergency care was always available to the community, and we have done everything within our power to meet physician needs. Progressive Emergency Physicians began providing care in our ERs on November 13."

6. Legacy's founder filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in November for business debts, and the company is being dismantled, according to The Inquirer.

7. Patricia Pierce, an attorney working with the ER physicians at the three Pennsylvania hospitals, told The Inquirer she is gathering information about the case and evaluating how to move forward.

"This is an unconscionable business practice. It's inconceivable to me, particularly the sort of carrot-and-stick behavior on part of both Prime and Progressive," she told The Inquirer.

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