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It’s official: Phoebe settlement is off

The Federal Trade Commission announced Friday that it has rejected a proposed settlement agreement with Phoebe Putney Health System over the latter’s 2011 merger with a rival Albany hospital.

The FTC and Phoebe tentatively reached the agreement last year, appearing to put an end to what was already a long-running, complicated legal dispute. But the federal agency has been signaling for months that it might not take the deal after all.

Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital

Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital

The agency’s decision to reject the settlement revives the high-profile regulatory fight between Phoebe Putney and the FTC. The matter will now return to an administrative court, where a hearing is expected over the feds’ antitrust allegations against Phoebe.

The federal agency has contended for three years that Phoebe’s acquisition of Palmyra Medical Center violated antitrust laws, reducing competition and potentially raising prices for consumers.

“We’ve argued all along that this merger would create a monopoly in Albany that would harm consumers and employers in the region,” Deborah Feinstein, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Competition, said in a statement Friday. “Meaningful structural relief is needed to restore competition to this marketplace.”

Phoebe Putney officials called the FTC’s rejection of the deal disappointing. full story

Piedmont affiliates with Conyers hospital

Piedmont Healthcare has struck a clinical affiliation agreement with Rockdale Medical Center, the organizations announced Thursday.

Rockdale is a 138-bed hospital in Conyers, an eastern suburb of Atlanta. It is owned by LifePoint Hospitals, a Nashville-based hospital chain, and the agreement with Piedmont does not affect its ownership.

Rockdale Medical Center

Rockdale Medical Center

Piedmont said the deal represents its first such clinical affiliation. “We think this will become more common in our market,’’ said Elisabeth Wang, a spokeswoman for Piedmont Healthcare.

Atlanta-based Piedmont currently operates five hospitals, including Piedmont Atlanta Hospital in the upscale Buckhead district of the city. None of the five, though, is in the eastern suburbs.

The deal with Rockdale was finalized in August, and no money or equity was exchanged.

The agreement is a looser form of the consolidation that is shaking up the hospital industry in Georgia and nationally. full story

A (big) new brand in Georgia health care

Macon’s largest health care system has a new name: Navicent Health.

logoThe rebranding of Central Georgia Health System, announced Wednesday, coincides with other new initiatives launched by the organization.

The main hospital in the organization, a 637-bed facility heretofore known as Medical Center of Central Georgia, is now named Medical Center, Navicent Health.

Ninfa Saunders, president and CEO of Navicent, said the new brand combines two words: “navigate,’’ as in helping patients navigate the health care system; and the patient as the “center’’ of that care.

The new name, she added, can help to dispel the image of a regional system in favor of one that can be a statewide or even national health destination. “Patients are going to start shopping for the right care, at the right place and at the right time,’’ Saunders told GHN. full story

Freestanding ERs target suburbs, rural panel told

Freestanding emergency departments have been proposed in Georgia as a potential solution for struggling rural hospitals, or newly closed ones, that want to remain operational in downsized form to help patients in need.

Healthcare CostBut the trend toward such standalone emergency rooms nationally is totally different from that picture, members of the Georgia Rural Hospital Stabilization Committee were told Monday.

Freestanding EDs are actually proliferating in suburban areas, targeting high-income patients who have private insurance, said Charles Horne of accounting firm Draffin & Tucker. The prevailing emphasis is on patient convenience, not need, he told committee members at a meeting in Cordele.

Earlier this year, Gov. Nathan Deal backed a change in state licensing rules that would permit a stand-alone emergency department and some other services in rural areas that have a financially ailing – or closed – hospital.

But so far, no organization has applied to create such a facility in the state.

Meanwhile, four rural hospitals have closed in the past two years in Georgia, and others are having severe financial problems. full story

Released Ebola patients see an answer to prayers

Richard Furman recently received a grim phone call from a physician in Liberia.

The doctor gave an update about medical missionary Dr. Kent Brantly, who had been stricken with the Ebola virus in the West African nation.


Dr. Kent Brantly (in blue shirt) addresses the media Thursday at Emory. Photo from Samaritan’s Purse

The physician didn’t think Brantly would survive, said Furman, a retired surgeon who’s on the board of directors of the Christian aid organization Samaritan’s Purse, where Brantly worked. Furman said the doctor “thought he [Brantly] was gone.”

On Thursday, Dr. Furman celebrated Brantly’s recovery while seated among journalists during an emotional news conference at Emory University Hospital, where Brantley’s discharge was announced.

Fellow Ebola patient Nancy Writebol, who also caught the disease while working as a medical missionary in Liberia, was released Tuesday from Emory, officials said. Writebol had requested no announcement be made when her discharge occurred, Emory said.

Their release poses “no public health threat,’’ said Dr. Bruce Ribner, an Emory infectious disease specialist who addressed the media.

Brantly, 33, and Writebol, 59, show no evidence of Ebola, said Ribner. full story

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