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Temporary restraining order issued in FTC/Phoebe case

Albany, GA

The Albany Herald
Jennifer Maddox Parks

ALBANY, Ga. -- A ruling has come down from U.S. District Judge Louis Sands issuing a temporary restraining order in the case regarding the purchase of the former Palmyra Medical Center, enjoining the Phoebe Putney Health System and the Hospital Authority of Albany-Dougherty County from taking any further steps to consolidate Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital and its nearby sister hospital.

In the order that was filed Wednesday, it states that the Federal Trade Commission maintained a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction were needed to preserve the "status quo" pending the outcome of the administrative proceedings in regards to the acquisition of the hospital now known as Phoebe North Campus.

"Specifically, Plaintiff asserts that temporary injunctive relief is necessary to prevent competitive harm during the pendency of the preliminary injunction proceedings," the order reads.

After considering the factors required for establishing the need for a such an order, it was determined that the FTC carried its burden of persuasion to establish the need for the imposition of an "extraordinary and drastic remedy" of a temporary restraining order, the order reads.

Phoebe officials emphasized Wednesday that the order will not alter the day-to-day operations at Phoebe North, and instead preserves the current state of operations at both campuses until further review by the court.

"In granting the request, Judge Sands made it clear that the TRO is limited entirely to preserving the status quo as it now exists and that this order is not intended to change the way Phoebe currently operates Phoebe North Campus, the former Palmyra Medical Center," said Tommy Chambless, senior vice president and general counsel for the Phoebe Putney Health System. "As part of the ruling, Phoebe may not alter prices in existing contracts; it can continue to operate as the integrated hospital with two campuses, as it is today.

"This will have the effect of slowing some of the progress we have been moving toward, on Phoebe North Campus as well as on our main campus, and naturally, we will not yet be able to immediately undertake our plans to develop a women's and children's center for our community."

The terms of the order from Sands state that Phoebe officials are prohibited from taking any further steps to consolidate the Albany hospitals and are expected to maintain the status quo as it is today, and that Phoebe is not permitted to institute any price changes to existing contracts — a prohibition that does not extend to the formation of any new contracts.

"We are pleased that the Court has issued a Temporary Restraining Order prohibiting any further steps to consolidate the two hospitals in Albany, and prohibiting any price changes to existing health-plan contracts, pending our Motion for Preliminary Injunction," said FTC Bureau of Competition Director Richard A. Feinstein in a statement Wednesday. "A hearing on that motion has been scheduled for June 14."

This order is expected to remain in effect until there is a ruling from the June 14 hearing. In the meantime, Phoebe is expected to submit its brief in response to the FTC's motion by May 31 — and the FTC is expected to file its brief in reply by June 7.

On March 14, roughly a month after the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling in the FTC's favor, the stay on administrative proceedings relating to the $195 million purchase was lifted — setting in motion for the administrative trial to be scheduled to commence on Aug. 5.

On April 11, the federal agency filed renewed motions in the U.S. Court for the Middle District of Georgia seeking a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to stop the further integration of Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital and Phoebe North as a means to ensure Palmyra's assets were maintained until the administrative trial.

Read this article on the Albany Herald Website.

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