The Federal Trade Commission voted 3-2 to end its lookback investigation into the 2000 formation of Vista Health out of Victory Memorial Hospital and Provena St. Therese Medical Center, both in Waukegan, Ill. FTC staff had recommended closing the investigation without action in July 2003, but it took a year for the commission to officially do so. The commissioners' vote represents a rare split. In a statement posted on the FTC Web site, the majority wrote, "We did not find sufficient evidence to support a likelihood of consumer harm resulting from this transaction." In their dissenting opinion, Commissioners Mozelle Thompson and Pamela Jones Harbour wrote, "The totality of the evidence gives us reason to believe that the antitrust laws are violated by this transaction" and a complaint is warranted.
Vista Health President and Chief Executive Officer Tim Harrington said, "The FTC decision is another step forward for us in our plan to consolidate Victory and Saint Therese hospitals. We were confident there was no wrongdoing on Vista Health's part." The FTC began a study of previously consummated hospital mergers under former FTC Chairman Timothy Muris. The agency has not scheduled a date for releasing results, previously expected this spring. As a result of the reviews, the FTC challenged the 2000 acquisition of Highland Park (Ill.) Hospital by Evanston (Ill.) Northwestern Healthcare. The case is pending. The agency is investigating at least six other hospital mergers, hospital officials have confirmed. Read FTC material on the decision. -- by Mark Taylor