Springfield, Va.-based Inova Health System said the Federal Trade Commission has approved its merger with Alexandria (Va.) Health Services, despite last-minute attempts by Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp. to thwart the deal.
The FTC had until March 7 to challenge the merger or request additional review time. When the deadline passed without further word from federal regulators, Inova's lawyers declared victory.
Donald Harris, Inova's senior vice president for government relations, said the two systems are moving quickly to complete the merger and have set March 20 as the closing date.
At the 11th hour, Nashville-based Columbia unleashed a publicity campaign and enlisted outside antitrust attorneys to sway the public and the FTC against the proposed merger between the not-for-profit systems, which are Columbia's major competitors in northern Virginia (March 3, p. 3).
Alexandria Health owns 321-bed Alexandria Hospital, while Inova's flagship hospital is 656-bed Fairfax Hospital in Falls Church, Va. The merger gives Inova control of four of the six acute-care hospitals in the market and 75% of the beds. The remaining two hospitals, with 25% of the market's beds, are controlled by Columbia.
The FTC's approval of the merger intensifies an already heated battle for control of the northern Virginia market.
"We're not going to sit back and let Columbia call the shots," said Jane Albright, a spokeswoman for Inova. "The management style around here has been that of Virginia country gentlemen. But that's not the case anymore."
Harris said Inova is now preparing for Columbia to try to stop the merger by filing an antitrust lawsuit or by seeking an injunction against the deal. Columbia officials could not be reached for comment at deadline.