A trial date of Sept. 26 has been set for the U.S. Justice Department suit to block the partnership agreement between the only two hospitals in Dubuque, Iowa.
The Justice Department filed the suit June 9 in U.S. District Court in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to prevent 320-bed Mercy Health Center and 124-bed Finley Hospital from forming a collaborative partnership.
"(Justice Department lawyers) didn't want to back off from a fight because they spent too much time getting this far," said David Ettinger, a Detroit attorney who is representing Mercy and Finley.
The trial originally was scheduled for Sept. 12, but the government's motion for more time was approved last week by a federal judge. The trial will be held in Dubuque.
A partnership agreement was signed in February by the hospitals' parent corporations, Sisters of Mercy Health Corp. of Farmington Hills, Mich., and the Finley Tri-States Health Group of Dubuque. It would allow each hospital to maintain its own assets and identity.
The Justice Department has said the merger would give the proposed Dubuque Regional Health System an unfair monopoly. More than 90% of Dubuque-area residents use the two hospitals in the city of 86,000 people, which is located on the Mississippi River in northeast Iowa (June 20, p. 3).
The hospitals have insisted their venture isn't a merger.
But the Justice Department disagreed, saying the government views the partnership as a merger that would violate Section 7 of the Clayton Act. That section of the antitrust law bans acquisitions that may reduce competition.
Mr. Ettinger said the Justice Department and the hospitals are preparing for a trial that's expected to last two weeks. Both sides have been taking depositions.
The lawsuit is the fourth Justice Department antitrust challenge of a not-for-profit hospital merger.