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Hospital Authority, Phoebe agree to halt integration of Phoebe North pending administrative trial

Phoebe North Hospital located on Palmyra Road.

Phoebe North Hospital located on Palmyra Road.

ALBANY, Ga. — The Hospital Authority of Albany-Dougherty County and Phoebe Putney Health System have agreed to halt the integration of the former Palmyra Medical Center — now known as Phoebe North Campus — with Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital while an administrative law judge considers a Federal Trade Commission complaint challenging the merger.

In a federal court order entered by U.S. District Judge W. Louis Sands on Tuesday, Phoebe officials also agreed to maintain the viability of Phoebe North until the completion of a full administrative trial on the merits and all related appeals, extending a similar temporary restraining order issued by Sands on May 15.

This means Phoebe is not permitted to transfer or sell any assets of Phoebe North except on a temporary basis, modify or change physician privileges unless the physician requests it, cause destruction or deterioration or do anything else that would impact the status quo at the hospital. In the meantime, it is expected that Phoebe North will be provided with sufficient funding and working capital, and that officials will maintain the marketability of the hospital, the order states.

These orders are coming through as Phoebe officials have been working to convert Phoebe North into a freestanding women’s and children’s center.

“The preliminary injunction is procedural in nature and was agreed to by the parties and submitted to the judge for approval,” said Tommy Chambless, senior vice president and general counsel for Phoebe Putney Health System. “It is not a determination of the merits of the case and has no effect on the FTC’s administrative proceeding.”

“We hope that we will soon be able to move forward with our plans to improve Phoebe North Campus and continue to provide the region with world-class medical care for women’s and children’s health issues.”

The administrative trial is scheduled to begin on Aug. 5 in Washington, D.C.

The U.S. Court for the Middle District of Georgia was considering a complaint for preliminary relief filed by the FTC in April 2011 that contended the merger would reduce competition significantly and allow for the raising of prices for general acute-care hospital services charged to commercial health plans, harming patients and area employers and employees.

The complaint was previously dismissed by the U.S. District Court, and that dismissal was affirmed by 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals — allowing the $195 million purchase to go through in December 2011. On Feb. 19, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously reversed the Court of Appeals decision by finding that the state action doctrine did not immunize the hospital acquisition from the federal antitrust laws, and remanded the case for further proceedings.

A spokesman from the FTC said Thursday afternoon that there would be no comment released by the agency at this time.