A judge Wednesday gave seven mid-level health care providers until May 31 to tell women under their care at Special Health Resources for Texas that they temporarily cannot see them.
The afternoon ruling affects more than 900 patients, an attorney representing the nurse practitioners and nurse midwives said. It is in effect until one year after the seven women left Zeid Women’s Health Center, which occurred variously from January through March.
The ruling, by 124th District Judge Alfonso Charles, enforces a temporary injunction Charles issued March 27 in a lawsuit in which Dr. Yasser Zeid accuses the former employees of soliciting his patients after leaving his employ for SHRT, which does business in Longview as the Woman and Child Health Center on Seventh Street.
“We’re very pleased with the court’s ruling,” Zeid’s attorney, Greg Love, said after Charles issued his decision based on testimony heard Monday. “We think he is correct, both legally and factually.”
David Hayes, the interim CEO of Special Health Resources for Texas, was in SHRT’s Paris clinic Wednesday and had not seen the judge’s order.
“We take it real seriously,” he said. “It’s my understanding, from what I’ve gotten so far, that we’re not to see (those patients). And whatever the order prescribes is the action we’ll take.”
Hayes said the “over 900” estimate was accurate. He also said SHRT would stand by those women, even if it means helping them find new health care providers.
“It may include that,” he said. “Our highest priority is our care for our patients, and we’re going to continue to provide outstanding care while abiding by the orders of the court.”
The confusion SHRT’s obstetrics and gynecological patients are in jeopardy of experiencing now could be compounded by a statement sent to media outlets Wednesday afternoon by a Houston lawyer.
Attorney Kimberly Chojnacki announced in the statement that “a contracted health care provider to SHRT” had breached the center’s electronic medical records system.
The breach was discovered April 16, Chojnacki wrote, adding the unnamed third-party provider “ ... may have copied certain medical records and contacted patients without authorization.”
The statement says SHRT does not believe any credit card or bank account information was accessed. But she goes on to say names, addresses, phone numbers, birth dates and medical information was stored in the system and that affected patients are being notified by letters to their last known address. The statement adds that the incident is being reported to the Office of Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Mid-level health care providers such as nurse practitioners can provide health services only under the auspices of a supervising physician.
Charles took notice in his ruling that SHRT had brought in a doctor from Nacogdoches to fill that role, but that physician does not have “privileges” at either Longview hospital. The judge ordered SHRT to work, instead, in conjunction with a doctor that does have that status.
Zeid sued SHRT on March 4, seeking more than $1 million in relief from what he has described as “practice poaching.” He bases his claim on clauses in employment agreements — signed by at least four employees — in which they promised not to provide women’s health services for one year after they leave Zeid, at any of four Longview clinics — Family Circle of Care, Trinity Clinic, Wellness Pointe and Diagnostic Clinic of Longview.
The signed “covenants of noncompetition” also forbid the providers from soliciting Zeid’s patients or staff for two years.
The providers and SHRT previously asked Charles to dissolve the temporary injunction, and his denial of that motion is on appeal. Bruce Smith, representing the providers, said Wednesday’s ruling also will be appealed.
“Once the court enters its order, it’ll be appealed along with the other order that’s currently on appeal,” Smith said.
A full trial is set for May 2020.
Evidence during Monday’s hearing, and an interview last week with Zeid and his attorney, indicated the women had been providing health care for women at SHRT under a 2016 collaboration between Zeid’s clinic and SHRT.
Zeid told the News-Journal the arrangement allowed him to expand his services to the indigent population. However, he said, after his employees began to leave his clinic, he realized his patients were leaving him, too.
“It took me about a week to figure out what’s going on,” he told the newspaper.
Zeid also claims in the suit that SHRT did not fully relinquish Medicaid reimbursements that were due to his clinic when the providers worked for him.
Most of the women left his employment in response to new employment agreements that, for the second year, included the noncompetition agreement. The providers have said SHRT offered better pay and benefits.
It was unclear what the full impact of Charles’ ruling will be on patients who were under care of the nurse practitioners, nurse midwives and medical assistants formerly working for Zeid who went to SHRT.