Employees and physicians at Highland Park (Ill.) Hospital reacted with outrage, fear and anxiety to last week's decision by Federal Trade Commission Chief Administrative Law Judge Stephen McGuire ordering three-hospital Evanston (Ill.) Northwestern Healthcare to divest Highland Park Hospital, which it acquired in 2000.
"We've reached the end of one chapter in our long-standing FTC trial," read an announcement e-mailed to employees last week. "While disappointed in the ruling, we are resolved to appeal it, and want to assure you -- and our patients -- that we will continue to operate in the same fashion at Highland Park Hospital while the appeal process is under way." Evanston Northwestern President and Chief Executive Officer Mark Neaman told staff the trial had nothing to do with inappropriate patient care, but was "strictly an administrative matter, dealing with the charge that somehow after the merger, ENH became `too powerful' and raised our prices to select HMOs beyond competitive price levels. This remains a charge we vigorously dispute."
Nephrologist David Ginsburg, medical director of Highland Park Hospital's dialysis unit, said physicians there are outraged. "We all feel the merger was good for patient care. There have been numerous improvements. Divestiture would be a disaster. If this hospital is sold to a for-profit chain, this program -- the state's only center offering daily dialysis -- would disappear."
Ginsburg said Highland Park Hospital employees are concerned, too. "Any doubts raised about who their employer will be are very disturbing," Ginsburg said.
Neaman said Evanston Northwestern officials have kept physicians and employees informed since the onset of the FTC investigation and filing of an antitrust suit in February 2004. "We've been talking about what the issues are and what they aren't," Neaman said. "There's been a sense of outrage and anger with some staff, and a natural concern when uncertainty comes up."