Cooper Clinic Sues Mercy Over Recruitment Tactics

by Mark Friedman  on Monday, Dec. 2, 2013 12:00 am  

Cooper Clinic CEO Doug Babb, inset, said in letters filed in its lawsuit that the multi-specialty clinic had been in sale talks with both Mercy Health and Sparks Health System in Fort Smith in 2012.

Feud Starts

At first, Cooper said in its complaint, it tried to work things out with Jeff Johnston, who was then CEO of the Fort Smith hospital that was then known as St. Edward Mercy Medical Center.

Cooper CEO Doug Babb sent a letter on Dec. 8, 2010, asking Johnston to stop recruiting Cooper’s doctors. At that point, two doctors had left to join Mercy Clinic, which was quickly growing.

When Mercy incorporated its Mercy Clinic in 2008, it had about 20 doctors and 50 workers to support them, according to a news release Mercy issued in October 2012. Within four years, though, Mercy Clinic had grown to 83 doctors, 15 advanced practitioners and 215 clinical and administrative employees.

In his 2010 letter, Babb told Johnston that the loss of the two Cooper doctors “has caused loss of staff, decreased income, and patient care issues.”

Babb reminded Johnston that the two health care organizations had worked together in the past on projects for the good of health care in the area, and he said he would prefer to continue that working relationship.

But if the hospital continued to approach Cooper’s doctors about job openings at Mercy, Babb said, he would consider legal action.

Mercy, however, continued recruiting Cooper’s doctors. Another of Cooper’s doctors left on Jan. 3, 2011, and still more were being recruited, the lawsuit said.

Babb fired off another letter to Johnston on Jan. 21, 2011.

“You and your staff nevertheless are continuing to attempt to get at least six more Cooper Clinic physicians to break their employment contracts notwithstanding my request that you stop this anticompetitive practice,” Babb said in the letter.

“I can only infer that Mercy Clinic and St. Edward are engaged in a continuing and widespread plan to recruit as many Cooper Clinic physicians as possible primarily to weaken our ability to compete with your new Mercy Clinic,” Babb wrote.

Sale Talks

 

 

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