Hospital Authority, Memorial board members approve sale to HCA

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - Memorial Health's board members and the Chatham County Hospital Authority voted to approve the sale of the hospital to the for-profit organization, Hospital Corporation of America, for $710 million.

They hope to close the deal by the end of 2017.

"This will essentially be a sale of the hospital to a large company that has a lot of hospitals in the country," said Memorial Health Board Chairman Curtis Lewis.

Nearly a year after a multi-million dollar deal with Novant Health fell through, another deal is on the table. But this time, it's not a non-profit proposing a partnership. Instead, it's a for-profit looking to buy.

HCA is offering $710 million to pay off the debt, invest $280 million in capital and put the rest of the money in a trust fund - millions of dollars to be used for indigent care in the community, not just at Memorial Health. Which means the hospital authority would have a hand in deciding where that money goes.

Our WTOC investigation revealed in February, Grady Memorial in Atlanta receives $80 million a year from Fulton and DeKalb counties for indigent care. But Memorial Health hasn't received a dime.

Instead, Chatham County has been giving millions to Curtis V. Cooper and the health department. It's possible Memorial Health could still lose out to these organizations if a trust fund is established.

"That's a benefit to the community because that money is to not benefit the hospital authority," said Chatham County Hospital Authority Board Chairman Frank Rossiter.

The following graphic was released after the Novant deal fell through. It depicts the differences between a profit and a non-profit purchase of Memorial:

But there is a benefit because the authority would be in somewhat control of the trust fund. If the Novant deal had passed, the authority would have been forced to take a backseat as the landlord.

In fact, Novant Health said they pulled out of their multi-million dollar offer last May because the authority overstepped its boundaries. And coincidentally, HCA was ready to make an offer within days of the failed deal.

When asked if the conversation with HCA continued post-Novant, Rossiter replied, "We had a letter that came several days after the Novant deal failed. I wasn't in receipt of that but the former chairman was."

Almost a year later, there's now a formal letter of intent. HCA says it will maintain the hospital's mission, Level 1 Trauma and NICU services as well as indigent care at least for the first 10 years. But after that, it's unclear.

Unlike a non-profit, a private corporation doesn't have to guarantee those services forever.

According to WTOC sources, no other non-profit showed interest after Novant and the hospital certainly couldn't afford to wait any longer.

"I think this is going to be one of the best things to ever happen to the health care community," said Lewis.

The following document is the Letter of Intent of the proposed acquisition of Memorial's assets:

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