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Doctors and their patients are affected when there's a noncompete clause in the doctor's employment contract
Noncompete agreements forced Drs. Myron Wasiuta (left), Bradley Church and Sandra Grossett to work in Culpeper.
PETER CIHELKA/THE FREE LANCE-STAR
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BY JIM HALL
Dr. Myron Wasiuta and Dr. Bradley Church have been busy at their new optometry practice in Culpeper. Yet they're eager to return home.
"I am counting the months when we can finally get back to Fredericksburg," Wasiuta said.
The two and their colleague, Dr. Sandra Grossett, are serving what amounts to a self-imposed exile because of the noncompete clause in the employment contracts they signed with their former clinic.
For years, the three optometrists worked at Access Eye Centers, one of the largest eye clinics in the region.
But in 2009 they resigned, and because of the restrictions in their contracts, opened a new business, not in Fredericksburg but in a strip shopping center outside Culpeper.
Their contract restrictions last for three years and extend for 30 miles around Fredericksburg. Culpeper is within the 30-mile forbidden zone but is a permitted area.
Noncompete clauses are common in many industries, including medicine. Employers insist on them to protect their business practices and to temporarily prevent former employees from joining rivals or starting competing businesses.
Yet patients too are affected when there's a noncompete. In this case, patients of the three optometrists suddenly discovered that they were gone, and they had no idea what had happened to them.
"Hearing the journey that patients were on before they found us has been interesting," Grossett said.
A LONG, STRANGE TRIP
The move to Culpeper was a change that the three optometrists could not have imagined when they first arrived in Fredericksburg.
Wasiuta joined Dr. William Coleman at Coleman Eye Associates on State Route 3 in 1991. Church joined the business in 1998. Grossett has practiced in the area since 1993.
Church and Wasiuta had handshake agreements with Coleman and were happy with the way he ran the practice. Over the years, they built a roster of loyal patients.
They were not bothered by Coleman's request, years later, that they sign employment contracts that included noncompete clauses.
Both men got pay raises and signed the new contracts. Both contracts contained the three-year, 30-mile restrictions.
"I naively did not get it reviewed by a lawyer," Wasiuta said.
Church said that even if he was bothered by the contract, there was little he could do about it.
"When you're coming out of school and carrying $100,000 worth of debt, you're trying to find a place that you can survive," he said.
The departure of Drs. Bradley Church, Sandra Grossett and Myron Wasiuta recalls the case of Dr. Pamela Mancini.
In 2000, Mancini, a Fredericksburg pediatrician, challenged the noncompete clause in her employment contract with Pratt Medical Center.
The clause said that if she left Pratt, she could not practice within 25 miles of her Pratt office for one year.
Mancini resigned from Pratt and opened a Fredericksburg office. Pratt immediately challenged her. A Fredericksburg circuit judge ruled for the clinic, and Mancini closed her office.
Mancini moved to Southwest Virginia, where she practiced for a year. She then returned to the Fredericksburg area and still practices here.
Most of the people who have followed Drs. Bradley Church, Myron Wasiuta and Sandra Grossett to Culpeper are those Wasiuta calls their "medical patients."
"Optometry has its roots in glasses and contact lenses," he said. "We used to do that solely, and there are still a number
But today many optometrists are trained and licensed to
"Optometrists are the primary care physicians for ocular health," Grossett said.
Added Wasiuta: "We don't do surgery. That's the clear difference between optometrists and ophthalmologists. But what we do is a whole lot more than glasses and contacts."