U.S. District Court Judge Louis Sands has issued a temporary restraining order against further moves by Phoebe Putney Health System to consolidate with the former Palmyra Medical Center in Albany.
The ruling had been sought by the Federal Trade Commission. Phoebe Putney officials said in a statement that the judge’s action won’t alter day-to-day operations at the former Palmyra, which was purchased from HCA and has been renamed Phoebe North.
The FTC’s Richard Feinstein noted Wednesday in a statement that the ruling also prohibits “any price changes to existing health-plan contracts, pending our Motion for Preliminary Injunction.” A hearing on that motion has been scheduled for June 14, said Feinstein, who is director of the agency’s Bureau of Competition.
It’s the latest legal step in a battle that has lasted more than two years.
The FTC, which has fought the merger since it was announced, says allowing Phoebe to own the only two hospitals in Albany is anti-competitive. The sale itself was completed in 2011.
Phoebe Putney’s legal team rattled the industry statewide recently by sending subpoenas to all non-specialty hospitals in Georgia, requesting financial and other information as it pursues its legal fight with the FTC.
The subpoenas sparked a flurry of legal work for hospitals and concern about the scope and cost of such an effort. Facing protests from the Georgia Hospital Association, the Phoebe legal team subsequently pared back the document load for hospitals.
Phoebe officials told GHN on Thursday that they had exempted small rural “critical access” hospitals from delivering the financial documents, citing the concern that the burden of producing them would be greater for these facilities.
The FTC recently won a favorable ruling in the case from the U.S. Supreme Court. The justices unanimously set aside two previous court decisions upholding the Phoebe-Palmyra merger and ruled that the legal challenges to it can continue.
Phoebe attorney Tommy Chambless said in a statement Wednesday that the order from Sands “is not intended to change the way Phoebe currently operates Phoebe North Campus, the former Palmyra Medical Center.”
“This will have the effect of slowing some of the progress we have been moving toward, on Phoebe North Campus as well as on our main campus, and naturally, we will not yet be able to immediately undertake our plans to develop a women’s and children’s center for our community,” Chambless added.