NAMPA -- A battle among major hospitals is now in the courts, and major players say the outcome will impact patient care options in the Treasure Valley.

On Monday, Saint Alphonsus Medical Center-Nampa and other hospitals filed a lawsuit in federal court asking a judge to block St. Luke's Health System from buying a local doctor-owned medical group.

The hospitals say if St. Luke's is allowed to buy the group, it will create a healthcare monopoly of primary-care doctors, especially in Nampa.

Saint Alphonsus says if St. Luke's is allowed to go ahead with the acquisition, patients will have fewer choices in healthcare, more than 140 healthcare workers could lose their jobs, and medical costs could be driven up beyond competitive levels.

According to the newly filed lawsuit, St. Luke's began discussing acquisition plans with physician-owned Salzter Medical Group in 2009. Since then, the Federal Trade Commission and Idaho Attorney General's office have been investigating the deal, seeing if there are any antitrust or state competition issues.

Even so, St. Luke's has said it's moving ahead, planning to close the deal by the end of the year. Now, Saint Alphonsus Medical Center - Nampa, Saint Alphonsus Health System, Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center, and Treasure Valley Hospital are suing.

We did this reluctantly, but it's the right thing to do. This is about protecting Nampa, about protecting the Nampa hospital and about keeping healthcare close to home, Saint Alphonsus spokesperson Elizabeth Duncan said.

Saint Alphonsus says a St. Luke's takeover would deal a crippling financial blow to its Nampa hospital, and that anyone in Nampa can see why. The Saltzer Group is right next door, and in the lawsuit, Saint Alphonsus says the hospital depends on admissions from Saltzer doctors and that patients need to have an easy-to-get-to hospital near their doctors.

St. Alphonsus took this action with Treasure Valley Hospital to protect patient choice, to protect patients, to protect the community and to protect competition, Duncan said.

'We would agree that competition is a good thing. We obviously disagree that this particular acquisition will take away any competition, St. Luke's spokesperson Ken Dey said.

St. Luke's says the acquisition will benefit Nampa-area patients, and its spokesperson says even under a St. Luke's -Saltzer deal, Nampa patients could still choose to go to Saint Alphonsus in Nampa.

Ultimately it's the physician's recommendation to his or her patient where they should go. It's the physician who will make a recommendation, but if a patient wants to remain in Nampa, it's ultimately the patient's choice. We're never going to interfere with the patient choice or the physician's decision of where they refer, Dey said.

St. Luke's representatives say Saltzer approached them about this plan and that Saint Alphonsus was also considered. Saint Alphonsus says it was toward the end of the Saltzer-St. Luke's discussions when Saltzer asked Saint Alphonsus to bid as well. The hospital group did, but it asked the doctor's group to remain independent.

Because the lawsuit is so new, St. Luke's does not have a timeline for when it will formally respond. St. Luke's is unsure when the FTC and AG's antitrust and competition investigations will be complete, and at this point, their plan is still on track for an acquisition by the end of the year.

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