Wellstar urged to drop physicians' noncompetes

U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock is urging Wellstar Health System to refrain from enforcing noncompete clauses in its physician contracts as it moves toward closing its 460-bed Atlanta Medical Center, WABE reported Oct. 13. 

Mr. Warnock sent the letter to Candice Saunders, president and CEO of Marietta, Ga.-based Wellstar, before the system shut down the emergency department of Atlanta Medical Center Oct. 14. He expressed concern that Wellstar's enforcement of noncompete provisions could prevent the closing hospital's physicians from working at other area hospitals.

Noncompete covenants are common practice in physician employment contracts and can prohibit physicians from employment with a competitor via restrictions on geography — within a number of miles from their employer — for a certain time period. 

"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," Mr. Warnock said. "It would be wrong to allow any noncompete 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."

In a statement reported by WABE, Wellstar said it was taking a customized approach to noncompete agreements. 

The system said "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."

The system said members of the AMC medical staff are not restricted from joining other hospital medical staffs. Wellstar has said more than 1,400 Atlanta Medical Center staff members have accepted jobs at other Wellstar facilities.

Atlanta Medical Center is set to close Nov. 1.

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