St. Luke's Health System can move forward with its plans to expand in Nampa by buying Saltzer Medical Group this month, according to a ruling Thursday by U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill.
Saint Alphonsus Health System and Treasure Valley Hospital had asked Winmill to block the acquisition because they feared it would do permanent damage to their businesses and increase prices on medical services in Canyon County.
Winmill said in a decision Thursday that the acquisition, which is part of a federal and state antitrust investigation, can proceed because it wouldn't do irreparable harm to St. Luke's competitors before a full trial can happen this coming summer.
Winmill’s decision was based on four "critical assumptions," he said:
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— The case will proceed on a fast track to trial
— Saltzer referrals to Saint Alphonsus will not measurably decline
— The integration of St. Luke's and Saltzer will happen gradually
— The acquisition can be unwound and St. Luke's ownership in Saltzer divested if Saint Alphonsus prevails on its antitrust claims.
"If these assumptions prove unfounded prior to trial, St. Al’s is free to seek a preliminary injunction to freeze the integration process and/or unwind whatever steps have been taken to integrate Saltzer into the St. Luke’s system," Winmill said in the ruling.
A spokesman for St. Luke's said the decision validated arguments the health system made in court. The system will close Friday on its deal to buy Saltzer and contract with its physicians. The changeover will start Jan. 1, and a trial is expected to happen within months after that.
"We need a final decision so we can go on to taking care of the patients," said spokesman Ken Dey.
Dey said St. Luke's has encouraged Saltzer physicians to keep up the relationships they have with Saint Alphonsus and to continue sending patients to its hospital and providers in Nampa.
Saint Alphonsus Health System officials were "very pleased" with Winmill's decision to set an early trial, they said in a statement.
"While Judge Winmill did not grant our request for a preliminary injunction, we hope that this expedited schedule, and the process established by Judge Winmill, will protect our concerns regarding irreparable harm to Saint Alphonsus and the community," the statement said.