Princeton (W. Va.) Community Hospital said it will enter a consent decree with the U.S. Justice Department to end an antitrust investigation concerning Princeton's collaboration with Bluefield (W.Va.) Regional Medical Center on an open-heart surgery program and cancer center. The decree will force Princeton Community to break off the relationship and will prohibit future collaborative deals without Justice Department approval, hospital spokeswoman Deborah Griffith said. "The legal fees to continue working on the investigation were prohibitive, and both hospitals are in financial distress," Griffith said. Bluefield Regional said its board would meet Monday to decide whether to enter a similar consent decree or take other action. The investigation "has compromised the hospital's ability to borrow money to pay for projects, and until the investigation is resolved, the projects are on hold," hospital Vice President of Finance Lynn Whitteker said in a statement.
The hospitals agreed in January 2003 to work together on heart surgery and cancer programs as recommended by the state healthcare authority, which had already awarded a certificate of public approval for a heart center at Bluefield Regional. The Justice Department began investigating the hospitals' agreement in June 2003. The issue of a certificate of public approval to build the joint cancer center at Princeton was put on hold pending the investigation's outcome. -- by Susanna Moon