New Jersey hospital, anesthesia group sue over staffing 

A New Jersey hospital and an anesthesia group are in court over disagreements about staffing and contract agreements. 

Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center, an RWJBarnabas Health hospital in Livingston, New Jersey, alleges that American Anesthesiology of New Jersey “chronically” understaffed the facility, forcing delayed and canceled surgeries and blaming it on industry-wide workforce shortages. The hospital’s lawsuit in state court accuses North American Partners in Anesthesia, the private equity-owned parent company of American Anesthesiology, of prioritizing profits over patient care.

“Consistent with its overarching purpose—to generate as much revenue and profit as possible—North American Partners in Anesthesia is leveraging these shortages and the unwavering need for critical anesthesia services to enrich its private-equity backers. Regrettably, North American Partners in Anesthesia seems willing to create a public health crisis to protect their business interests,” Cooperman Barnabas’ complaint says. 

The lawsuit recounts incidents from September 2021 through June 2022 when surgeries were to be delayed or canceled because no anesthesiology providers were available. In one such case, Cooperman Barnabas assigned medical residents to fill the gap, according to the hospital.

North American Partners Chief Operating Officer Dr. Rafael Cartagena described the suit’s charges as “completely fictitious” and said Cooperman Barnabas had no contract with his company and can’t be held responsible for staffing shortages. “Everything they’re trying to do here is just to discredit us,” he said.

American Anesthesiology had been the exclusive anesthesiology provider for Cooperman Barnabas for years, but had never had a contract with the hospital, Cartagena said. North American Partners sought an arrangement with the hospital after it acquired American Anesthesiology in 2020 but the parties couldn’t come to an agreement, he said.

North American Partners sued Cooperman Barnabas and more than 30 physician anesthesiologists and certified registered nurse anesthetists on July 25, the day before the hospital filed its lawsuit. The anesthesiology group alleges the hospital poached its workers in contravention of their non-compete agreements. Cooperman Barnabas caused “the destruction of [American Anesthesiology of New Jersey’s] medical practice in Livingston, New Jersey, as well its inability to fulfill its service obligations at customer locations other than [Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center],” the lawsuit claims. 

Cooperman Barnabas was forced to create an internal anesthesia department and hire former North American Partners employees “as a matter of necessity,” the hospital wrote in its complaint. “The volume of patients we see daily necessitates the immediate availability of skilled anesthesiologists and certified registered nurse anesthetists to provide care. Unfortunately, the company contracted to provide these services has been unable to consistently meet the needs of our system and patients in a timely manner,” RWJBarnabas said in a statement.

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