Trinity Health and four surgeons have sued Grand Rapids-based Orthopaedic Associates of Michigan, accusing the practice of holding a monopoly in Kent County.
The Livonia, Mich.-based health system alleges OAM has "engaged in a pattern and practice of unjustified enforcement of its noncompetition clauses to force physicians unhappy with its operations to leave Kent County," according to a lawsuit filed Jan. 31 in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan.
OAM has the lion's share of the orthopedic market in Kent County — 64 percent, the lawsuit said. Its biggest competitor is Grand Rapids-based Spectrum Health, which holds a 23 percent share.
The practice's noncompete clause precludes resigning physicians from practicing within a 50-mile radius of OAM for one year, the lawsuit said. Four surgeons, Timothy Henne, MD; Timothy Lenters, MD; John Healey, MD; and Geoffrey Sandman, MD — who are also plaintiffs — worked at River Valley Orthopedics, which was acquired by OAM in 2018.
According to the lawsuit, the four submitted resignation letters in September effective March 16, 2023. The surgeons want to work for IHA, an affiliate of Trinity Health, as employed physicians, but OAM "has insisted on enforcement of its noncompete clause, and has refused to permit them to do so," the lawsuit said.
The four surgeons perform most of their cases at Trinity-affiliated Saint Mary's, and the lawsuit argues enforcing noncompete clauses would affect that hospital's ability to provide orthopedic care and interfere with the orthopedic residency and emergency care.
Kenneth Easton, MD, president of OAM, described the situation as "unfortunate" and said Trinity Health Michigan was, "utilizing whatever means necessary to achieve its desired business goals at the expense of one of the few independent orthopedic groups serving West Michigan," in a Feb. 2 email to Becker's. He said he expects the outcomes to follow similar cases in the past.
"The core dispute revolves around an elaborate effort to nullify the industry-wide, common contractual obligations of physicians departing their existing practices," Dr. Easton said. "The remainder of the complaints in the suit are designed to leverage this core issue. Medical practices and hospital systems, including Trinity, routinely enforce such provisions in their physician contracts. Historically, such provisions have been upheld and enforced by the courts. We look forward to a favorable outcome."
Trinity Health seeks a jury trial for damages and for the four surgeons to be released from any employment restrictions. The health system also wants a judge to rule OAM's noncompete clauses as violations of federal law.