Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital
ALBANY, Ga. -- The focus in the Phoebe Putney Health System's ongoing legal battle with the Federal Trade Commission regarding the purchase of its former cross-town rival is the administrative trial set to take place in Washington, D.C. in August.
The hearings is set to commence at 10 a.m. in the Federal Trade Commission courtroom in Washington, D.C. on Aug. 5 before Chief Administrative Law Judge D. Michael Chappell as a means to evaluate the merits of the acquisition.
An order issued last month lifted the stay on administrative hearings that had been placed in July 2011. The commission moved to have the stay lifted shortly after a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court on Feb. 19 stating that the purchase of the former Palmyra Medical Center, now Phoebe North Campus, by the Hospital Authority of Albany-Dougherty County was not immune from federal intervention.
What if the hearings do not work out in Phoebe's favor?
"If a court should enter an order consistent with what the FTC has requested, it would imperil health care in Southwest Georgia," said Tommy Chambless, senior vice president and general counsel with Phoebe. "The FTC clearly does not understand what has occurred in connection with the integration and improvement of health care delivery.
"On behalf of the safety of people needing services we would likely have to seek some appellate relief if what the FTC seeks should be granted."
The initial administrative complaint was issued by the FTC on April 19, 2011, contending that the then-proposed acquisition of Palmyra by the Hospital Authority would reduce competition substantially and allow for raised prices for general acute-cure hospital services charged to commercial health plans in Albany.
An administrative hearing was scheduled for Sept. 19, 2011, before the stay was instituted.
The Supreme Court decision effectively reversed a ruling from the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in December 2011 that had allowed the $195 million purchase to go through, and the case was remanded back to the Court of Appeals for further proceedings.
However, officials say the case might not end up on the Court of Appeals calendar anytime soon.
"There is nothing to take to the 11th Circuit at this time," Chambless said. "However I suspect one side or the other is likely to be going back to the 11th Circuit at some time in the future for a review of either something from the administrative hearing or the District Court."
While the nation's highest court was mulling over the case, officials at Phoebe announced intentions to convert the newly-acquired hospital into a women's and children's center -- something they say they intend to follow through on, at least for the time being.
"Our commitment to a women's and children's center, expanded neonatal intensive care, top of the line rehab, trauma certification, long term care and other healthcare improvements this community needs and is entitled to is not diminished, notwithstanding the FTC's threat to these improvements," Chambless said.
The FTC filed renewed motions last week in the U.S. Court for the Middle District of Georgia seeking a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to stop the further integration of Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital and Phoebe North as a means to ensure Palmyra's assets are maintained until the administrative trial.
"As the Transaction is now consummated, we request that this Court enjoin any further integration of the acquired hospital's assets and operations, and preserve the status quo at Phoebe North (formerly Palmyra), pending the outcome of the Commission's expedited administrative proceeding," the amended complaint stated.
"... The ongoing administrative proceeding will determine the legality of the Transaction, subject to judicial review by a federal Court of Appeals, and provides a forum for all parties to conduct full discovery and present evidence regarding the likely effects of the Transaction and any affirmative defenses raised."
A spokesman with the FTC said Monday that the agency would not be making further statements at this time beyond the documents they have recently filed. A schedule of events posted on the FTC's website shows that witness lists from both sides will be due in the coming weeks, with pretrial briefs to be filed in July.
The final pretrial conference is set for Aug. 1.
Additional documentation available on the agency's website shows that Palmyra Park Hospital, Inc. and Hospital Corporation of America -- the former owner of Palmyra -- have filed a motion to be dismissed as parties to the administrative action on the grounds that it no longer owns or operates any of the assets in question, nor has it been involved in the continuing litigation in recent months.