ALEXIAN BROTHERS: State Puts Columbia/HCA Deal On Hold
The state attorney general's office "postponed a Monday deadline for completing" a deal that would transfer ownership of Alexian Brothers Hospital in San Jose to Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp. in exchange for two Columbia hospitals in suburban Chicago. The San Jose Mercury News reports that there "were different interpretations as to the precise reason for the latest delay," but an Alexian spokesperson said it was due to "technical issues" that would be resolved by next week. A community group fighting the deal, however, cited antitrust issues as the reason for the state's action, and said they would use the delay to "lobby Columbia for a written pledge to continue Alexian's tradition of providing health care to the poor" (Duran, San Jose Mercury News, 12/1). Deputy Attorney General John Donhoff said the state's move was a response to antitrust issues raised by Consumers Union concerning the deal. Consumers Union attorney Diana Bianco said, "The main concern is Columbia would own more than 50% of the (hospital) beds in the San Jose area." Donhoff allowed for that possibility, saying, "There's probable cause to believe that the transaction would be anti-competitive as we understand the facts now. The delay will give them a chance to prove we're wrong. Or if they can't do that, in some other way eliminate the competitive problems." Both Alexian Brothers and Columbia predicted swift approval. "The corporate office anticipates that the [state] will be responded to and any concerns will be resolved," said Leslie Kelsay, director of community relations for Alexian. Paul Estess, director of business development for Columbia/HCA's San Jose Medical Center, added that the corporation "is not sure there is an (anti-competitive) issue frankly. We view this as an opportunity to reduce health care costs" (Henneman, San Francisco Chronicle, 12/1).
From The Mercury News
An editorial in yesterday's Mercury News argues that the apprehension of the transaction's opponents is well founded, given Columbia's reputation "for cutting staff and services with an eye solely on the bottom line." Not only should the state demand a five-year continuation of charity care, the editorial says, but it should also "fill the loopholes in state law that allowed this transaction to move forward without any provision for a charitable trust." The editorial concludes: "[W]e can't rely on dwindling numbers of Catholic religious orders or anyone else to provide health care out of the goodness of their hearts. We have to decide what we need and be ready to meet the need with public resources, if charity no longer can or will" (11/30). Click here for past coverage of the proposed transaction.