OCEANSIDE — Last week, a California judge dismissed a 4-year-old lawsuit filed by Tri-City Medical against Scripps Health for allegedly poaching patients.
According to Judge Earl H. Maas of the Superior Court of California, Tri-City failed to demonstrate “actual controversy” and that Scripps engaged in unfair competition.
In 2009, Scripps acquired Sharp Mission Park, where 65 primary care doctors previously referred most patients through written agreements to Tri-City. After the takeover, doctors began sending more patients to Scripps, causing Tri-City to lose millions of dollars, according to the medical center.
Scripps maintains that doctors at Sharp Mission Park directed patients to Scripps facilities because they had their patients’ best interests in mind.
But Tri-City has argued that Scripps adversely affected care by directing patients who live within Tri-City’s boundaries to Scripps facilities in Encinitas, and sometimes as far away as Chula Vista.
In a written statement, Tri-City CEO Larry Anderson said: “Scripps’ anti-competitive activities continue, to this very day, to deny patients the right to choose to receive care at the hospital closest to them rather than driving miles to a Scripps facility.”
The statement goes on to say that Tri-City could possibly appeal the ruling.
“Tri-City will be examining the court’s decision closely and will evaluate its options to appeal this order,” Anderson said.
In response to Tri-City’s lawsuit, Scripps CEO Chris Van Gorder said that patients are brought to the nearest hospitals in emergencies. But if they’re in stable condition, Scripps has the legal right to transfer patients to its facilities.
“Transfers take place every day in hospitals throughout California,” Van Gorder said.
Van Gorder said all the legal bills haven’t come in, but he estimates the lawsuit’s cost to be in the “high six-figures” for Scripps.
Historically, Van Gorder said Scripps and Tri-City had a “very good” relationship. He said that Scripps is still open to working with Tri-City, but added, “collaboration is a two-way street.”
Last spring, Scripps tried to force the case into arbitration, rather than court, based on expired contracts between Scripps and Tri-City. However, the California Fourth District Court of Appeal upheld a trial court’s ruling that Tri-City’s claims of anti-competitive conduct are not subject to arbitration, sending the case to court.