An online petition in defense of seven mid-level health care providers barred from practicing locally after leaving Zeid Women’s Health Center had drawn almost 16,000 names by Sunday evening.
The three certified nurse midwives and four nurse practitioners left the Longview health clinic at various dates since late winter, and a lawsuit accusing them of poaching Zeid’s patients is set for trial in May.
The court order barring them from working in the immediate Longview medical market ends June 1. Some have found work outside the city and are considering leaving Longview.
The seven women previously provided women’s health care at Special Health Resources for Texas under a now-ended contract with the Zeid clinic for which they worked.
Dr. Yasser Zeid, owner of the namesake clinic on East Marshall Avenue and a satellite clinic in Tyler, sued the women based on non-competition agreements at least four of them signed.
On May 15, 124th District Judge Alfonso Charles issued the temporary injunction that forbids the former employees from providing women’s health services in Longview until after the trial in 2020.
Nurse Midwife Tamara Little, who started the online petition, plans to return with her retired military husband to Alaska, along with their eight children.
“I can’t work here,” she said. “And I can’t stay here if I can’t work.”
Another of the seven former employees, nurse midwife Mary Beth Smith, said it’s been difficult breaking the relationships she and the other six had formed with more than 900 women.
“Most of those patients have never even seen Dr. Zeid,” Smith said Friday. “They were coming in because of us. Dr. Zeid says they can’t see us anymore. It’s very hurtful to them.”
The petition says nine mid-level practitioners working for Zeid were handed letters of termination Feb. 22 and given one week to sign new contracts with the non-compete agreements. The seven named in the lawsuit did not sign, it says.
It notes that the four Longview women’s health clinics named in the non-compete agreements did not include Special Health Resources, a nonprofit agency serving people with limited resources.
On Saturday, Zeid and his clinic issued a response to the petition. It disputes much of the petition’s claims, saying they are “based on falsehoods and a re-imagining” of events surrounding the employees’ departures.
“The sole intent of the non-compete clause is to prevent this exact situation — employees leaving the practice and taking all of the things provided into a new entity, effectively stealing the practice,” Zeid wrote in consultation with his attorney, Greg Love. “(T)hese women seem to have made it their mission to bring (Zeid Women’s Health Center) down, regardless of the truth or the other people who may be hurt.”
Mid-level health care professionals such as nurse practitioners and midwives must work under supervision of a medical doctor. Zeid’s statement says supervising physicians who performed that role for Special Health Resources conduct their primary practices at the four named clinics.
The statement also notes the women are free to work in neighboring cities including Marshall, Henderson, Carthage and Tyler.
Some are working on just that.
“We’re going to go work for a doctor in Nacogdoches,” nurse practitioner Sheli Kipp said of herself, fellow nurse practitioner Rikki Sandvik and midwife Blanca Foster.
Kipp said the intent of the petition is to let the public know the women’s story.
“We wanted to get the word out about what’s going on,” Kipp said. “And it did.”
She also noted a Nurse.org article describing the Longview dispute, which was taken down Thursday but re-posted with a different headline on Friday. She said the report attracted more than 31,000 views.
“And we’re getting people from all over signing the petition,” she said.
Kipp said she and others have been to the state capitol in hopes of changing the regulation requiring a medical doctor to oversee mid-level practitioners. There, she said, “two or three attorneys” offered assistance.
Smith said she has moved to the Dallas area to be able to continue working.
“The other ladies are not working as of right now,” she said.
After leaving the Zeid clinic, the woman were hired by Special Health Resources. But interim CEO David Hayes fired them in mid-June, saying the one-year ban “tied my hands.”
Smith said the former Zeid employees understand the online petition carries no enforceable weight. The petition is circulating on Facebook, but its home site is www.change.org.
“It’s getting attention and letting him know the people, the patients — they’re the ones that care,” Smith said, noting patient comments on the page. “That (injunction) is taking away a woman’s choice to pick their own provider.”