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AG must yield Huntington hospital documents

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey has until Friday to turn over 350 documents relating to the Huntington hospital merger to the Kanawha County Circuit Court in order for a judge to determine if the documents should be released to Steel of West Virginia.

The documents include emails between Morrisey aides and U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va., about Cabell Huntington Hospital’s purchase of St. Mary’s Medical Center, according to media reports.

Steel of West Virginia filed a Freedom of Information Act request for documents related to Morrisey’s assurance of voluntary compliance agreement with the two hospitals. The agreement was signed by Morrisey and the presidents of both hospitals in November 2014, and placed conditions on the merger to ensure no antitrust laws were being violated.

 Steel of West Virginia filed the FOIA request in September 2015 during the discovery period for Cabell Huntington’s certificate of need hearing at the West Virginia Health Care Authority.

Morrisey contends the documents are exempt from FOIA because the correspondence was sent while Morrisey was leading an antitrust investigation into the proposed hospital merger. Morrisey’s lawyers argue other records can be kept confidential because they are “internal memorandum,” according to reports from the Charleston Gazette-Mail.

“The Attorney General’s Office has strong statutory authority,” said Curtis Johnson, press secretary for the attorney general. “Our office stands by its previously asserted exemptions and hope after the court’s review the judge will honor the rule of law.”

Kanawha Circuit Judge Tod Kaufman will review the documents privately before deciding whether to release the documents.

Tim Duke, president and CEO of Steel of West Virginia, said the documents are critical to the health care authority’s evaluation of both the certificate of need and the cooperative agreement.

 “In its certificate of need decision, the authority relied heavily on the assurances set forth in the assurance of voluntary compliance between the hospitals and the attorney general, and so the underlying information from the attorney general’s investigation of the acquisition is clearly relevant to the authority’s findings,” Duke said.

A decision is expected next week.

Follow reporter Taylor Stuck on Twitter and Facebook @TaylorStuckHD.

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