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WVHCS sale to Tenn. firm moves ahead

Sale of W-B General Hospital and its affiliates may be completed by month’s end.

The proposed sale of Wyoming Valley Health Care System to a Franklin, Tenn.-based for-profit company took a large step forward Thursday.

Community Health Systems, Inc. announced that the two parties had signed a definitive agreement for CHS to acquire the local institution that includes Wilkes-Barre General Hospital. The system is the largest employer in Luzerne County.

Because WVHCS is a nonprofit entity, the deal still must be approved by Luzerne County Orphans Court and the state Office of Attorney General. A court hearing is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Tuesday.

While not ready to say all obstacles have been overcome,, Community Health Systems spokeswoman Rosemary Plorin was optimistic.

“It is a sign of forward progress on the deal,” she said.

A formal closing also must wait for the transfer of numerous licenses and the acquisition of various state and federal approvals.

“Those conditions will still have to be met,” Plorin said. But, “none of those issues are impediments.”

WVHCS board chairman Charles “Rusty” Flack called the agreement “a giant step. Obviously there are some more hurdles,” he said by e-mail. “However … if all goes well, we will close sometime in the second quarter, April 30 at the very earliest.”

Plorin declined to reveal the financial terms.

In a court petition filed Feb. 25, CHS said it would commit $135 million to capital improvements within Wyoming Valley Health Care over seven years. Another $136 million would be used to pay off WVHCS debt and to establish a nonprofit foundation dedicated to promoting health care in the region.

After a public hearing in March, Flack said CHS was initially not the high bidder but agreed to raise its offer and provided guarantees that the board felt necessary to continue the WVHCS mission of community care.

Among the promises, CHS will maintain indigent care policies for 10 years, offer employment to all current staff members and operate Wilkes-Barre General Hospital and First Hospital with the same mission currently in place for the next five years.

According to its Web site, Community Health Systems affiliates own, operate or lease 120 hospitals in 29 states. Nine are in Pennsylvania, including those in Berwick, Easton and Sunbury. It reported nearly $11 billion in revenues in 2008.

WHAT’S NEXT

A hearing on the proposed sale of Wyoming Valley Health Care System is scheduled for Tuesday, April 7, at 9:30 a.m. before Judge Joseph Augello, Brominski Building, third floor.

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