WellStar, Emory scrap merger talks

A proposed merger between two of Georgia’s biggest hospital systems was scuttled, officials announced Tuesday.

Marietta-based WellStar Health System announced in a press release it will not associate with Atlanta’s Emory University health care system after months of discussion and review by the two entities.

The decision will not impact the intended partnership between WellStar and West Georgia Health, said Jan Nichols, WGH’s director of marketing.

WellStar and Emory announced talks in February on how their systems could combine, but WellStar board chair Gary Miller said in the press release his board ultimately scrapped negotiations.

“WellStar has declined to enter the next stage of discussions with Emory University,” Miller said in the press release from WellStar. “We respect Emory University as a leading, international academic medical center. WellStar will accelerate multiple horizontal and vertical integration opportunities with other potential partners.”

WellStar did not say who those “potential partners” could be.

By the statements of both WellStar and Emory, the breakup of the brief courtship does not appear to be mutual.

In a short statement, Emory said it “regrets” WellStar’s decision and it “continues to believe that the proposed combination of Emory Healthcare and WellStar Health System would serve our communities well as a way to extend the benefits of our renowned academic medical center to a larger population of patients in Metro Atlanta, as well as the state of Georgia and beyond.”

Tyler Pearson, WellStar’s public relations, said he was unable to further elaborate on the conditions of the negotiations’ termination due to nondisclosure agreements signed by both entities as part of the discussions.

Calls by the Daily News on Tuesday afternoon to Emory Healthcare public relation’s department were not returned as of press time this morning.

The end of the deal comes at a time when hospital systems across the nation are looking for new ways to increase their financial stability in the wake of the President Barack Obama’s health care law, the Affordable Care Act — commonly called “Obamacare.”

“With ever-changing government regulations and reimbursements, health systems are looking for new efficiencies that will allow for higher quality, improved access to healthcare and the ability to maintain a competitive cost structure,” WellStar said in the press release.

WellStar also said in the press release that current CEO Reynold Jennings will become the organization’s chief strategy officer July 1. Candace Saunders, WellStar’s current chief operating officer and president of WellStar Kennestone Hospital in Marietta, will replace Jennings as CEO.

“Saunders will be focused on building partnerships that will emphasize WellStar’s role in all the communities WellStar serves while maintaining its not-for-profit status,” states WellStar’s press release. “As an example, WellStar Health System recently announced that West Georgia Health in LaGrange … is set to join the system.”

Under Saunders’ leadership, Kennestone became the largest tertiary regional medical center in the Southeast, which led to her role today as president and COO for the overall system, according to WellStar. Her leadership has been recognized statewide, most recently with her appointment as the chair of the Georgia Hospital Association this year, WellStar states.

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