A former Mountain View Regional Hospital neurosurgeon is suing Wyoming Medical Center and her previous employer, alleging both organizations violated her employment agreement.
Dr. Anje Kim began working for Mountain View in 2015, after the specialty hospital purchased her previous employer. As part of her employment agreement, Kim had to — and did — agree to be transferred to the east Casper hospital. She stayed at Mountain View until it was acquired by WMC on June 1.
That same day, Kim was allegedly terminated by WMC in a letter from CEO Michele Chulick. Because of her employment agreement, Kim is thus allegedly barred from “practicing any type of medicine in much of Wyoming” for one year, according to the lawsuit, which was filed in late June.
The suit, quoting the American Medical Association’s code of ethics, argues that such noncompete clauses in employment agreements “can disrupt continuity of care, and may limit access to care.” The suit goes on to say that WMC, Mountain View and Wyoming Health Medical Group — a subsidiary of WMC — “threatened to terminate the physician/patient relationship between Dr. Kim and her patients.”
The medical association’s ethics codes place the onus on physicians not to sign agreements with noncompete clauses, unless they’re in training, in which case facilities are discouraged from asking them to sign them.
The suit further alleges that the provision is “unenforceable” in any case because it is “an unlawful restraint of trade and anti-competitive attempt to restrict fair competition within the medical community and, more particularly, the neurosurgical community of central Wyoming.”
Kim’s Colorado-based attorneys did not return requests seeking comment Monday.
In her letter to Kim, Chulick told the neurosurgeon that she was being terminated “for failure to obtain or maintain without restriction” clinical privileges at WMC.
But, Kim’s suit says, her agreement stated that she “was required to maintain clinical privileges only at Mountain View Regional Hospital, which she did. She was not required to apply for, be granted, or maintain clinical privileges at any other hospital, including” Wyoming Medical Center.
In a statement, WMC spokesman Kristy Bleizeffer said Kim chose not to pursue privileges at WMC after her contract was acquired by WMC.
“This is a pending legal matter and we respect the Court’s ongoing deliberations and process,” she said in an email to the Star-Tribune on Monday. “What we can say at this time is that Wyoming Medical Center has a clear common sense policy that physicians who do not have privileges with WMC cannot be employed by the organization.”
As part of Kim’s agreement, the neurosurgeon was to be given copies of her patients’ medical records upon the termination of her employment. The doctor requested those records from Mountain View and WMC two weeks after the hospitals’ deal was concluded, according to the suit. But she was rebuffed, she claims, and the hospitals have refused to provide the records.
Kim wrote that she needed the records to “facilitate her ethical and legal obligations to her patients” under Wyoming statute.
The suit seeks a restraining order and punitive damages.
The lawsuit is the latest spat between WMC and neurosurgeons. Mountain View itself was founded after a group of neurosurgeons quit WMC because the doctors wanted their own operating room team. The divide was eventually bridged in April, less than a year after both institutions brought in new CEOs
On June 1, the deal became final: Wyoming Medical Center shuttered Mountain View’s ER and turned the building into its east campus.