The sale of St. Joseph Hospital to Health Management Associates was abruptly called off Monday just before a public hearing on the sale, officials said.
"We are shocked and extremely disappointed that HMA has made this decision at literally the 11th hour," Ascension Health Vice President Laura Kaiser, St. Joseph's parent company, said in a statement. "We think this is particularly difficult for the employees of St. Joseph and the community of Augusta."
The Georgia Attorney General's Office, which must approve the $75 million sale, received an e-mail from HMA at 9 a.m. Monday, spokesman Russ Willard said.
"The hospital has experienced significant deterioration in its operating performance including adverse changes in physician referral practices since the submission of the notice to your office," said the e-mail from Timothy R. Parry, the senior vice president and general counsel for HMA. Ascension Health was told of the decision Sunday, according to the e-mail.
Page Vaughan, a regional vice president for HMA, confirmed the sale is off but referred questions to officials at the company headquarters in Naples, Fla. Those calls were not returned Monday.
St. Joseph's board of directors and Ascension representatives will meet "as soon as possible" to decide where to go from here, the Ascension statement said. Last June, Ascension had announced that it would either close, restructure or sell the financially struggling 231-bed acute care hospital.
After fielding a number of proposals, Ascension chose HMA in October and the two sides began negotiating a sale, which HMA announced in December. Because it would be converting a nonprofit hospital to a for-profit entity, the Georgia Attorney General's Office had to sign off on the transaction. The public hearing was seen as the last significant event leading up to approval. The details of the sale fill two three-inch binders, and HMA officials had spent a lot of time in Augusta recently talking with doctors and staff about the potential takeover. As late as Friday, HMA officials were still talking about potentially taking over St. Joseph on March 1.
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