Originally created 06/20/02

St. Joseph moves near merger



The national sponsor of St. Joseph Hospital in Augusta has taken a step toward merging with another national Catholic health-care provider.

Carondelet Health System announced Tuesday it has signed a letter of intent to merge with Ascension Health, which is also based in St. Louis. The deal will not change the mission or operations of St. Joseph but might make it easier to refinance long-term debt and acquire capital, St. Joseph CEO Andrew Lasser said.

Carondelet, sponsored by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, has been burdened with long-term debt and a lack of access to financing. The potential merger would allow Carondelet, with about $980 million in assets, to join the much larger Ascension system, with $9.8 billion in assets.

"Carondelet gains a very significant and strong partner, and Ascension gains a little wider geographic distribution and a little bit of an increase in size," Dr. Lasser said.

Both boards voted to go forward with the letter of intent last week, he said. The hope is to have a "definitive agreement" by fall and to finish it by the end of the year, Dr. Lasser said.

Ascension Health was formed in the 1999 merger of the Daughters of Charity National Health System and the Sisters of St. Joseph Health System.

The network consists of about 60 Roman Catholic hospitals in addition to nursing homes, psychiatric wards, long-term care centers and other health-care facilities in 15 states and the District of Columbia.

Ascension, the leading Catholic hospital system in the nation, is the largest not-for-profit health-care system in the nation. Although several clergy members sit on its governing board, the organization is led by a nonclergy chief executive officer.

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or tomc@augustachronicle.com.