Ochsner reconsiders termination of 12 St. Charles hospital nurses

21 nurses were originally told they would be fired on Sept. 1 due to Ochsner’s partnership with St. Charles hospital

Only a week after Ochsner Health System officials made a blindsiding announcement that they would terminate 21 nurses after taking over management of St. Charles Parish Hospital, 12 of those employees have been invited to stay.

The move comes after a second review of the files of employees currently working with St. Charles Parish Hospital who were formerly employed by Ochsner and left on bad terms.In an Aug. 27 meeting with the St. Charles Parish Hospital Board of Commissioners, Jean Hill, director of nursing at St. Charles Parish Hospital, choked back tears as she read aloud from a letter written by a nurse who had been told she was losing her job due to the management agreement the hospital is entering into with Ochsner Health System.

Meanwhile, in the audience behind Hill, a group of St. Charles Parish Hospital employees who were also notified that they were losing their jobs wiped away tears. One of those dabbing at her eyes with a tissue was Lois Mitchell, 60, who had been employed as a registered nurse at St. Charles Parish Hospital for the past seven years.

She joined St. Charles Parish Hospital after being terminated by Ochsner and was one of the nine St. Charles Parish Hospital nurses that was not invited to stay.

Mitchell said she was shocked when her supervisor called her on Friday, Aug. 22 and told her that she would be terminated by the St. Charles hospital on Sept. 1. The issue was that her record from her previous employment with Ochsner was marked “do not rehire” – a mark that most of the employees bearing termination notices carry.

Mitchell said she was terminated by Ochsner after she missed time from work for an illness, even though she brought in a doctor’s note. She said she was not given a chance to speak to St. Charles Parish Hospital officials about her case until after being told she was going to be fired.

“That should have been done before they called us up and said, ‘you are not going to be an employee anymore.’ That is backwards,” Mitchell said.

Joining Mitchell at the meeting of the St. Charles Parish Hospital Board of Commissioners were five other employees who had also been told by phone or text that they would be fired.

All of them had worked for Ochsner Health System before joining St. Charles Parish Hospital.

Sheba Johnston, 53, a registered nurse at St. Charles Parish Hospital, said she had no idea why her personnel file after her tenure with Ochsner had been stamped “do not rehire.” She asked Ochsner officials to provide her with the reason she received the designation, but she says they refused.

“I actually resigned and gave a two-week notice, but for some reason in my file I am a ‘do not rehire.’ I spoke with a representative from Ochsner asking if I could get copies of my record and they told me I would have to get a subpoena to get those records,” she said.

Johnston, who has been a nurse for 27 years, said because of the problems she has experienced with Ochsner she has already had trouble finding employment elsewhere.

“I called the company that I worked for previously to try and seek some employment from them and try to explain what happened, but they said they send most of their [registered nurses] to Ochsner facilities and because of that they couldn’t hire me,” she said.

In addition, Johnston said she and others face another challenge when seeking employment.

“It is going to be really hard for us to find employment because of our age. We have medical conditions and I just think it is awful for them to do that to us,” she said.

Those gathered at the meeting represent just a portion of the 21 St. Charles Parish Hospital employees who were initially told they had been terminated as Ochsner Health System finalizes a management agreement for St. Charles Parish Hospital that is expected to be in full effect later this year.

They were joined by a few employees who were not terminated, but wanted to show their support.

Luling resident Jamie Williamson made it known to the Board of Commissioners that she could attest for the skill, care and ability of the terminated employees.

“I have worked alongside some of these nurses for the four and half years that I have been a nurse and I am not only proud to work next to them, I have learned from them. They are part and parcel to why I am the nurse I am today. I would let them take care of me, I would put my mother in their care, I would put my children in their care and that means something,” she said.

In addition, Williamson said the terminations have left the employees who remain at St. Charles Parish Hospital worried about the future.

“It is scary for me, it is scary for a lot of the employees who remain,” she said.

Out of the 478 employees currently at St. Charles Parish Hospital, 259 will transition to being employed by Ochsner while 219 will remain as employees of St. Charles Parish Hospital, including most nurses and patient care staff.

The revelation of the terminations is in contrast with what Warner L. Thomas, president and CEO of Ochsner Health System, told St. Charles Parish Council members at a June 2 meeting.

“There are no layoffs planned. At this time, our teams are currently working through the details of the final agreement and our goal is to work corroboratively to expand services, not decrease them,” Thomas said.

According to Thomas, those who were initially told they were terminated were designated “do not rehire” following their past employment with the hospital system.

“[Do not rehire] is indicated by the manager who is basically managing that person when they leave the organization, whether it is on their own behalf or whether we have asked them to leave,” he said.

However, at the end of the meeting Thomas said staff who were notified they would be terminated would have their files from Ochsner and those from their employment with St. Charles Parish Hospital reviewed individually.

“What I am committed to do is to go back and look at every single person that is on the ‘do not rehire’ list. I’ll do it personally and make sure we talk to the manager, if that manager still works for us today, to talk about what that situation was to make sure we feel comfortable with that,” he said.

After reviewing the files, a decision was made days later to offer employment to 12 of the nurses that were originally scheduled for termination.

In addition, those who will still be terminated are eligible for severance benefits including pay and continuation of benefits for 90 days following their termination.

Officials with St. Charles Parish Hospital declined to comment on the situation and directed media requests to Ochsner officials.

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