Judge tosses Southcoast's 'sham' lawsuit against Steward

Boston-based Steward Health Care and New Bedford, Mass.-based Southcoast Health System are involved in a bitter struggle over market share, and Southcoast suffered a setback in the battle this week.

Steward opened a diagnostic cardiac catheterization laboratory in St. Anne's Hospital in Fall River, Mass., in January — a move strongly opposed by Southcoast. Before moving to St. Anne's, Steward's cardiac catheterization lab was at Quincy (Mass.) Medical Center, which closed in 2014.

Cardiac catheterization is already performed at two Southcoast hospitals, which are close to St. Anne's: Charlton Memorial Hospital in Fall River, two miles away, and St. Luke's Hospital in New Bedford, 15 miles away.

Southcoast tried to prevent Steward's unit at St. Anne's from opening through a lawsuit filed in October. Although a judge declined to issue a preliminary injunction to block the lab from opening, Southcoast said it would press forward with the litigation.

Under rules written in 2008, there was a ban on the opening of new cardiac catheterization services within 30 minutes of a facility already providing those services. However, that ban was lifted in 2014 when the rules were amended by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

On Monday, a Suffolk Superior Court held the state was valid in allowing Steward to transfer services between its hospitals. The court said the state had a right to amend the process, and Steward followed the correct procedures in transferring services from Quincy Medical Center to St. Anne's.

A Steward spokesman told the Boston Business Journal that the system "applauds the decision of the Superior Court to dismiss the sham lawsuit brought forth by Southcoast executives."

Southcoast officials are still deciding whether to file an amended complaint against Steward, according to the report.

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