Originally created 01/14/06

St. Joseph offer is $75 million



A Florida hospital company is willing to pay $75 million to buy St. Joseph Hospital in Augusta, sale documents show.

Health Management Associates Inc., of Naples, and Ascension Health, of St. Louis, have all but inked a lengthy sale agreement that would turn over the 231-bed acute-care hospital. Because the hospital would no longer be nonprofit, the sale must be approved by the Georgia Attorney General's office. A public hearing on the proposed sale will be held Feb. 13 at the hospital. HMA officials are hoping to assume control around March 1.

In addition to the sale price, HMA will pay to assume the balance of accounts at the hospital, which Deloitte Financial Advisory Services estimated in November was an additional $4 million.

For its money, HMA will get:

- A five-story, 300,000-square-foot brick hospital, part of which was built in 1952 but which HMA officials said is in good shape

- A medical office building

- A 10-office "medical village complex"

- A 19-county home health service, which generates more than $5 million a year, according to the Deloitte analysis

- Inpatient and outpatient hospice services, which generate about $7 million a year.

Not included in the deal is St. Joseph's half-ownership in Walton Rehabilitation Hospital, which it co-founded with University Hospital. Records also indicate St. Joseph had about $25 million in debt.

As part of the deal, HMA had to agree to offer positions to every employee but the CEO and chief financial officer, and to employ them for at least six months, unless it needs to fire them for cause or to downsize if patient volume declines. HMA also has to agree not to perform abortions at the hospital. That was an important point, said Sister Elizabeth Ney, the vice president of mission integration at St. Joseph.

"We've never had abortions here, so we wouldn't want to start them," she said.

St. Joseph gets to retain its name and gets right of first refusal if a portion of the hospital or one of its services or buildings is sold.

Proceeds of the sale will go into a foundation, probably the St. Joseph Foundation, said Sister Ney, who is the foundation's interim director. What the money will be used for hasn't been settled yet, she said.

"We really have not discussed this at all," Sister Ney said. "I think just trying to get through the sale has been our important focus. And then afterward, we'll probably put together a special committee to look at how do we continue in the future providing health care."

The foundation might make grants or sponsor a service, Sister Ney said.

"We'll really have to look at what are the needs of the community, and that's very much in keeping with how we started in any of our health care."

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

A public hearing on the sale of St. Joseph Hospital to Health Management Associates of Naples, Fla., will be held from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Feb. 13 in the Sister Mary Louise Conference Room at the hospital.