The Justice Department opened an antitrust investigation into a heart and cancer-care agreement between three West Virginia hospitals. The probe was disclosed as the American Hospital Association requested that federal agencies ease up on their antitrust scrutiny of hospitals (See story, p. 8). The hospitals are Bluefield Regional Medical Center, Charleston Area Medical Center and Princeton Community Hospital. Officials from the Charleston and Princeton hospitals confirmed that they had received notice of the investigation. A Bluefield spokeswoman said no one was available for comment. The Justice Department said it had no comment on the investigation. The agreement, signed in January 2003, calls for an open-heart surgery program to be developed as part of a new heart center at Bluefield; the center already has certificate-of-need approval. It also calls for a cancer center to be developed at Princeton; CON approval is pending. The Charleston medical center will serve as a consultant to the centers. "We feel very confident that there will be a positive outcome when (the investigation) is concluded," said Bill Bowling, vice president of support services at Princeton. The authority controls the CON process. Kirk Story, vice president of ambulatory services at Princeton, said the hospital received written notice from the Justice Department on June 16. Dale Witt, a Charleston spokesman, confirmed that the hospital had received the notification and said it would comply with any future requests.
Allina to consolidate leadership
Allina Hospitals and Clinics, Minneapolis, said it would consolidate governance for its 15 hospitals into one 20-member board. Individual hospital boards will dissolve over the next few months, Allina officials said. Regional community boards will function only as advisory bodies. The new governance structure is part of the system's evolution to "one mission, one strategy, one focus" and a step in its transformation to a "more patient-centered healthcare system," Allina said in a news release. The new system board will include a physician practice council subcommittee. Richard Pettingill, the former Kaiser Permanente executive who became Allina's president and chief executive officer in late 2002, will sit on the board as an ex-officio member. Allina has undergone significant transformation in recent years, most notably its 2001 split from HMO Medica.
Ascension names chief
Ascension Health, St. Louis, the nation's largest Catholic healthcare system with 67 hospitals, named Anthony Tersigni its president and chief executive officer. Tersigni, 54, has filled the position on an interim basis since January when former CEO Douglas French left for a sabbatical. French subsequently resigned. Tersigni joined Ascension in 2000 as a regional executive and was named chief operating officer in January 2001. "The board has done considerable work over the last several weeks to identify the leadership skills required for ... the next stage of our development," Ascension Chairman John Mudd said in a news release. "We received and reviewed input from every level of our ministry. After this intense process, it became apparent to all of us that Tony was the right person." Ascension earned $149.8 million on operating revenue of $9.1 billion in its fiscal year ended June 30, 2003.
ISS backs Anthem-WellPoint deal
Institutional Shareholder Services, Rockville, Md., reaffirmed its support for the multibillion-dollar merger between Anthem and WellPoint Health Networks. ISS, a well-known proxy adviser, rejected an argument by the California Public Employees' Retirement System that the merger would lead to "egregiously unwarranted pay" totaling as much as $600 million for 293 WellPoint executives. Opponents include CalPERS and California Treasurer Phil Angelides. ISS, in an analysis, said the impact on shareholders has been overstated because not all 293 executives would receive the highest possible payments-only those forced to leave the company within three years. Most executives are expected to remain with the merged company, ISS noted, and they already own stock options.
Medicaid waivers questioned
State Medicaid waivers drew the attention of Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Max Baucus (D-Mont.), who in a letter to CMS Administrator Mark McClellan said they feared that the waivers under consideration would "potentially make fundamental changes to the Medicaid program in ways that Congress did not anticipate or intend." Grassley, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and Baucus, its ranking Democrat, asked the CMS to brief the committee about current waiver negotiations by July 10. Their letter, a response to recent media reports, said it appears that "CMS staff have considered and commented on draft waiver proposals that could, among other things, impose enrollment caps and permit the use of waiting lists on options and possibly mandatory populations."
Ill. CON board subpoenaed
Members of the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board received subpoenas for information from the certificate-of-need board's historic records, a source close to the matter told Modern Healthcare. The subpoenas seek information on board actions several years old, according to the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity. At deadline, officials with the U.S. attorney's office in Chicago had not returned calls for comment. Officials with the Illinois Department of Public Health and the CON board declined to comment. The board is reviewing proposals for four new hospitals, a volume unmatched in decades. There was no indication that the subpoenas have any relation to the proposals.