ALBANY — Following a court appearance in Atlanta on Wednesday, the attorneys representing Phoebe Putney Health System said they felt good about the prospects of a ruling in their favor that would clear the way for the Hospital Authority to purchase Palmyra Medical Center.
The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments Wednesday in the Federal Trade Commission’s appeal of a U.S. District Court ruling that would allow the Hospital Authority of Albany-Dougherty County to purchase Palmyra without federal antitrust review.
As he was leaving the Atlanta area, Phoebe General Counsel Tommy Chambless said he was feeling “very optimistic.”
“(The judges) seemed knowledgeable about the case,” he said. “I thought it went well.
“The lawyers were well-prepared, and the court seemed interested.”
Asked when he thought a decision might be made, Chambless said it would be hard to say for certain, but did note that the decision was expected to be expedited.
“I do think that because they are expediting it, and because of their knowledge of the case, I would not be surprised if they act on it in a month to six weeks,” he said. “Hopefully, it will be quick so we can close this transaction.”
The FTC appealed a ruling made by U.S. District Judge Louis Sands in June that dismissed the agency’s claim of jurisdiction over the agreement between the authority and Hospital Corporation of America, the current owner of Palmyra.
Phoebe has argued that the authority, created under state government, has the right to buy Palmyra without federal intervention, and that the acquisition would be in the overall best interest of Southwest Georgia citizens.
Meanwhile, briefs filed by the FTC have argued that the purchase would “reward an overt scheme to evade the antitrust laws.” The agency contends that Phoebe, not the Hospital Authority, is the one with leverage in Albany over people and insurance companies, and that any statement to the contrary by Phoebe is a “smokescreen.”
Mitchell Katz, spokesman for the FTC, said Wednesday that the agency does not comment on cases that are in litigation.
Last December, the Hospital Authority announced a $195 million agreement with HCA to buy Phoebe’s for-profit competitor and consolidate health care delivery services. If the deal goes through. the county would contract with Phoebe to operate Palmyra as a not-for-profit facility that would be renamed Phoebe North.