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The Suburbanite
  • Testimony in Mercy v. Aultman trial concludes

  • Mercy Medical Center’s top executive defended his hospital’s decision to sue Aultman Health Foundation, saying the community is better off with Mercy exposing the illegal conduct of its cross-town competitor.

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  • Mercy Medical Center’s top executive defended his hospital’s decision to sue Aultman Health Foundation, saying the community is better off with Mercy exposing the illegal conduct of its cross-town competitor.
    “I think that, unfortunately, money can make good people do bad things,” Thomas Cecconi, Mercy’s president and CEO, testified Wednesday in Stark County Common Pleas Court.
    For nearly two months, Mercy and Aultman have slugged it out in front of a jury. Cecconi was the final witness.
    Aultman denies any wrongdoing, and one of its attorneys, Allen Schulman, suggested that Mercy really wants to cripple its opponents.
    “Do you just want the keys to Aultman Hospital, Mr. Cecconi?” Schulman asked.
    “Mr. Schulman, I’ve already answered that,” Cecconi responded. “I’ve said we’re not out to cripple Aultman Hospital; we’re not out to put them out of business. We want to level the playing field because they have damaged Mercy for over 15 years.”
    Mercy claims $110 million in past and future damages, saying that Aultman Health Foundation and its subsidiaries competed unfairly by secretly paying insurance brokers who brought business to AultCare and McKinley Life and ultimately Aultman Hospital.
    The Aultman defendants say the broker payments are a legitimate activity that supports the Aultman Health Foundation’s mission of providing quality health care at a low cost, and they accuse Mercy of pursuing a frivolous lawsuit.
    Cecconi testified earlier in the trial during Mercy’s case, and his attorneys could not ask him follow-up questions after Wednesday’s cross-examination.
    WARNING FROM JUDGE
    Testy exchanges between Schulman and Cecconi prompted Stark County Common Pleas Judge Frank Forchione to step in and remind both men that “we’re not going to have a shootout today.”
    Schulman asked Cecconi about turnover in Mercy’s management, as well as the millions of dollars in debt carried by Mercy and an e-mail that seemed to indicate dissatisfaction on the part of some Mercy board members with Cecconi’s leadership.
    “I don’t believe my job was in jeopardy, and I don’t believe it is today,” Cecconi responded to the last issue.
    Another topic was Ohio Health Choice, a for-profit network of health care providers, 20 percent of which Mercy owns.
    Cecconi said it was appropriate for Mercy to use charitable funds to subsidize Ohio Health Choice because it brings patients and revenue to Mercy in furtherance of its charitable mission.
    Schulman also noted Ohio Health Choice’s efforts to lower rates and become more competitive in response to AultCare.
    LEGAL HOUSEKEEPING
    The testimony is over, but the jury won’t begin deliberations until next week. The judge and attorneys still have legal housekeeping to finish before the jury gets the case. Forchione intends to give the jury legal instructions Tuesday, and the parties will make closing arguments Wednesday.?