The Hatfields and the McCoys of Florida hospitals are still at it.
Wuesthoff Health Systems, a Rockledge, Fla.-based hospital company embroiled in several lawsuits with Health First, filed an expanded antitrust lawsuit against its rival in Florida state court July 17.
In April, the parent company of 239-bed Wuesthoff Hospital, also in Rockledge, withdrew its federal antitrust lawsuit, filed originally in February 1998 against Health First, a three-hospital system based in Melbourne, Fla. (April 19, p. 38).
Wuesthoff believed it stood a better chance of winning the case in state court, spokesman Mark Cohen said.
No trial date has been set.
Wuesthoff hopes to convince Brevard County jurors that Health First provided steep discounts to illegally coerce insurers to exclude Wuesthoff from provider networks. Wuesthoff also alleges that Health First tried to create a monopoly in South Brevard County.
In the state lawsuit, Wuesthoff is seeking unspecified actual and punitive damages. In the federal lawsuit, it sought $120 million in damages.
"We're disappointed Wuesthoff chose to reinstate the suit," said Amelia Bailey, a Health First spokeswoman. "But we are confident that we're in full compliance of state and federal antitrust laws, and await the court's decision."
In another Wuesthoff-Health First battle, a Florida administrative law judge heard closing arguments July 15 in the second of two certificate-of-need cases involving the rival hospital systems.
Both CON cases are related to Wuesthoff's effort to build a hospital in South Brevard County, where Health First operates 528-bed Holmes Regional Medical Center in Melbourne.
In 1996, Wuesthoff first filed for CON approval to build a 50-bed hospital that would compete with Holmes. Florida's Agency for Health Care Administration denied the CON application, which Health First had opposed.
Wuesthoff refiled its application in 1997, and the state approved it the second time around, later that year.
Health First challenged that decision, saying the hospital was not needed, would unnecessarily raise healthcare costs and would lead to nursing shortages. Both sides must submit final briefings to Administrative Law Judge David Maloney by Aug. 16.