ALBANY — As first reported on albanyherald.com Friday evening, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed a decision made by U.S. District Court Judge Louis Sands in June that the Hospital Authority of Albany-Dougherty County is immune from federal intervention in its purchase of Palmyra Medical Center.
With that news, Palmyra could become Phoebe North in a week and a half.
“We are obviously excited and eager to move forward to what will lead to consolidation of the two hospitals in town,” said Phoebe CEO Joel Wernick. “This process has gone on for quite some time, but we believe the overall outcome will (result in) a benefit to the community.”
At a quickly called news conference Friday evening, it was announced that Tom Sullivan, a senior vice president at Phoebe, will serve as interim CEO of Palmyra.
It was also announced that the sale could go through in 10 days.
Tommy Chambless, general counsel at Phoebe, said that Ralph Rosenberg, chair of the Hospital Authority, was notified of the ruling late Friday afternoon.
“He was very excited,” Chambless said.
The Federal Trade Commission had asked the Appeals Court to overturn a ruling by Sands, who determined last summer that the sale was not subject to federal antitrust oversight.
In light of the ruling, Phoebe officials are preparing to take over the real estate title on Palmyra and bring on board its employees.
Richard Feinstein, director of the FTC Bureau of Competition, said in reaction to the ruling, “The Eleventh Circuit agrees with the Commission that this deal will create a monopoly and eliminate competition. We remain very concerned that it will raise health care costs dramatically in Albany, Ga. We are considering all our options.”
The agency contends the deal will allow the combined hospitals to raise prices for general acute-care medical services charged to commercial health plans, substantially harming patients and local employers and employees.
“There are some people we will never be able to convince,” Wernick said. “From a choice standpoint, we have gone from 1,500 employees to nearly 5,000 employees — so people have already chosen Phoebe.
“What will energize us is to convince those that are doubtful.”
When Wernick was asked Friday about dissenters saying the transaction would result in price-gauging, he said: “All I can say is: ‘Watch us.’ ”
The Hospital Authority last December empowered Phoebe Putney Health System to negotiate the purchase for $195 million. The authority has also determined that Phoebe would operate Palmyra as a not-for-profit facility that would be renamed Phoebe North.