A consent decree filed in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh would permit 172-bed Altoona (Pa.) Hospital to merge with 167-bed Bon Secours-Holy Family Regional Health System, the only other general acute-care hospital in Altoona. The consent decree, subject to federal court approval, would prohibit the system from discriminating against patients who go elsewhere for outpatient services. It also would require the system to accept applications for privileges from doctors in most specialties and to give the state attorney general's office 30 days notice before hiring additional physicians. "We believe our agreement ensures that consumers will still be able to choose their own doctors and other healthcare providers as they have always done," Pennsylvania Attorney General Jerry Pappert said in a news release. The hospitals will reimburse the state $50,000 for investigating the deal. They expect to save $32 million over five years through the merger and plan to begin operating jointly Nov. 1.
In a separate antitrust case, a federal judge refused to grant a new trial to six-hospital PeaceHealth, Bellevue, Wash., which was found guilty of attempting to monopolize hospital services in Lane County, Ore. The jury awarded the plaintiff, 106-bed McKenzie-Willamette Medical Center, Springfield, Ore., $16.2 million in damages in October 2003. U.S. District Judge Ancer Haggerty in Eugene, Ore., has yet to rule on McKenzie-Willamette's requests that PeaceHealth be ordered to divest its physician group, regularly report on its managed-care contracts and end its alleged anticompetitive behavior. PeaceHealth spokesman Brian Terrett said the system would not decide whether to appeal the jury's ruling to a federal court until Haggerty decides on PeaceHealth's requests for injunctive relief. -- by Mark Taylor