Steward Health Care System and Aya Healthcare are suing one another over unpaid contracts for traveling medical staff.
Steward Health, which has nine hospitals in Massachusetts in March filed a claim in the Massachusetts Superior Court against the San Diego-based traveling nurse agency for "unilaterally stopping all crisis medical staffing services" being provided at Steward Health facilities and for price gouging the cost of traveling staff.
The court issued an injunction requiring Aya Healthcare to provide clinical staff, including registered nurses, certified nurse assistants and clinical technicians, among others, to Steward Health's facilities through April 4, as long as the health system paid a $10-million bond.
Meanwhile, Aya Healthcare filed a counterclaim April 6 alleging that the Dallas-based health system has failed to pay $40 million owed as part of a March 2020 crisis staffing agreement during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The lawsuits represent a tension that has existed between healthcare providers and traveling staff agencies during the pandemic. Across the country, the demand for nurses has doubled and tripled the pay rates for travelers, as systems try to handle the surge of COVID-19 patients.
Providers say it's a challenge to compete financially for staff but agencies say demand is driving cost and nurses need to be compensated for the risks they're taking.
In a letter sent to staff April 7, Steward Health's Executive Vice President and General Counsel Herbert Holtz wrote, "While the pandemic has inspired the world to rightly honor and spotlight our providers on the frontlines, including you and the rest of our entire Steward Health Care team, it has also brought out the worst in others—such as Aya, which has repeatedly attempted to profiteer from the pandemic and manipulate its own nurses at the expense of sick patients. We believe Aya's acts are acts that anyone called to serve in healthcare should find reprehensible."
Steward Health said that Aya Healthcare was charging an hourly rate of $160 or more for nurses, compared to the pre-COVID-19 rate of $75.61, and said those rates are in violation of the Massachusetts Rate Cap Statute.
Aya Healthcare issued a statement a day later that said, "Aya's travel clinicians have been on the frontlines against COVID-19 and put themselves in the center of the pandemic to care for communities across the country. When Steward asked Aya for healthcare clinicians to help them meet urgent needs caused by the pandemic, Aya answered the call."
Aya Healthcare said the agency has provided more than 2,000 critical staff to Steward hospitals nationwide and said the health system has tried to only pay for half of its contract. Aya, in its counterclaim, said its operating margins are lower than before the pandemic and said market demand and competition makes it cost more for the staffing company to employ healthcare workers.