Judge reconsiders: St. Luke's can keep Saltzer, for now

adutton@idahostatesman.comJune 26, 2014 

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The Saltzer Medical Group in Nampa.

DARIN OSWALD — doswald@idahostatesman.com Buy Photo

A new stopgap court ruling from a Boise judge will allow St. Luke's Health System to continue owning Saltzer Medical Group of Nampa for about 30 days, as it works through an appeal of an order to undo the 2012 buyout.

Meanwhile, Saltzer is losing "substantial" amounts of money, and St. Luke's is absorbing those losses, the system said.

A new business contract between St. Luke's and Saltzer would allow the physicians group to sell property, cut back on services or take other actions — independent of St. Luke's — to save money.

U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill had ordered St. Luke's to undo the purchase in January when he ruled that St. Luke's broke antitrust laws when it bought Saltzer, giving it almost 80 percent of the market for primary care in the Nampa area.

St. Luke's appeal of that order is pending before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Meanwhile, St. Luke's asked Winmill to hold off on his order for "immediate" divestiture. The health system's private-sector opponents in the lawsuit — Saint Alphonsus Health System — told Winmill he shouldn't grant that request because Saint Alphonsus' Nampa hospital already is losing business from Saltzer doctors who'd joined St. Luke's under the acquisition.

Winmill initially denied the St. Luke's request, saying the system should immediately release Saltzer from its ownership.

St. Luke's also appealed that decision to the 9th Circuit. Then it revised its request to Winmill, asking for about 30 days before it has to let Saltzer go — or time for the 9th Circuit to issue an emergency decision on the matter. The Boise judge agreed.

"Any such stay should last just a month or so, until the Ninth Circuit can rule on the emergency motion," Winmill said in his order Wednesday.

St. Luke's said it has "been working diligently to come up with a plan to divest Saltzer in a manner that would allow the group to survive and to be a viable competitive force. But development of such a plan is quite difficult."

The reason, it said, is that Saltzer lost seven highly profitable surgeons during the acquisition.

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