A proposed merger between the only two acute-care hospitals in Slidell, La., may have hit a detour just days before a local referendum on the proposed sale of the public hospital for $130 million to Tenet Healthcare Corp., Santa Barbara, Calif. In a requested letter to Louisiana Attorney General Richard Ieyoub, the Federal Trade Commission said Tenet's proposed acquisition of 173-bed Slidell Memorial Hospital would lead to higher prices because health plans wouldn't have two competing hospitals to play off one another in bargaining. The FTC letter does not commit the agency to challenge the merger between Slidell Memorial and Tenet's 147-bed NorthShore Regional Medical Center, but FTC attorney Maureen Ohlhausen said the deal remains under investigation. In December, Tenet announced it would pay $130 million for the 44-year-old public hospital, which is owned and operated by the St. Tammany Parish Hospital District No. 2. Tenet also committed to invest $40 million in improvements in the next five years.
Louisiana law requires the attorney general to seek antitrust review from federal regulators before a public hospital is sold. At Ieyoub's request, the FTC analyzed the proposed merger and concluded that it would raise "serious competitive concerns."
While a Tenet spokesman declined comment on the letter's impact on the upcoming public referendum, he said: "We believe that there are many positives in the proposal that will far outweigh any possible concerns raised by the FTC."