Albany, Ga. hospital takeover delayed

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ATLANTA  — A federal appeals court has temporarily barred Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital in Albany, Ga. from buying Palmyra Medical Centers while the Federal Trade Commission appeals a lower court ruling.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals announced its ruling on Wednesday, hours before Phoebe Putney and Palmyra's parent company, Hospital Corporation of America, had stated in court documents that they would seal the $195 million deal.

The order came after HCA filed documents explaining how it would be harmed if the merger is delayed any further and showing that the merger is imminent.

The documents state that since the sale was announced, Palmyra employees have fled the facility at a record rate. The hospital said it has lost 65 employees and has had difficulty recruiting replacements.

The FTC argued that Phoebe Putney and HCA are susceptible to antitrust review because they were using the Hospital Authority of Albany-Dougherty County to conceal their actions from federal scrutiny.

Lawyers for the FTC called HCA's claims of harm "specious," saying that the company not only knew the legal hurdles associated with the merger, but created a way to profit from it through the implementation of a $35 million "break-up" fee.

The court granted the FTC's request for an expedited appeal. A hearing probably won't be scheduled on a court calendar for more than a month.

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