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Natchez Community’s parent company merging with larger health care network

NATCHEZ — The shareholders of Natchez Community Hospital’s parent company voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to merge with a larger health care network.

While the vote means NCH will have new owners, hospital officials said it will mean very little in the way of change for the hospital.

Shareholders with Health Management Associates — NCH’s parent company — approved a proposed merger with Community Health Systems with 98.7 percent of votes cast in favor of the agreement.

NCH Chief Executive Officer Eric Robinson said the company did not anticipate the merger would affect any of the operations on the ground at any of its hospitals.

“This wasn’t a hostile takeover, this was a mutual, agreed-upon friendly acquisition,” Robinson said. “We are not looking at a lot of turnover or changes at the local level, and if anything we will be a little better levered financially and have better positioning in networking opportunities.”

HMA and its affiliates own and manage 71 hospitals in 15 states with approximately 11,000 licensed beds, including NCH, Central Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson and eight other hospitals in Mississippi.

CHS is based in Franklin, Tenn., and through its affiliates owns, leases or operates 135 hospitals in 29 states with approximately 20,000 licensed beds. According to the company, it is one of the United States’ largest publicly traded hospital companies and is the sole provider of health care services in 55 percent of the markets its serves.

CHS operates River Region Health System in Vicksburg and Wesley Medical Center in Hattiesburg.

The merger’s completion is anticipated by the end of the month, and Robinson said he is not aware of any rebranding that will take place following the close of the deal.

“HMA as a company will disappear, but we don’t anticipate they are going to come in and change the names of the hospitals,” he said. “We will still be Natchez Community Hospital, and the people who work here and take care of our people every day before the close of the deal will be the same ones the day after the deal.”

In a statement from CHS, President and CEO Wayne T. Smith said the company was pleased HMA stockholders had seen the strategic value in combining with CHS.

“We are working now to finalize regulatory approvals, and we expect to complete this transaction quickly so that we can integrate our two companies and deliver on our plans for long-term growth and value creation,” he said.

Wednesday’s vote represented 81.7 percent of HMA’s outstanding common shares as of mid-November.

CHS stock closed down 3.46 percent at $42.42 a share Wednesday. HMA’s stock was down 0.44 percent at $13.45.