Seattle Times and Herald staff
RENTON — Renton-based Providence St. Joseph Health has been in talks with Ascension Health on a possible merger that would create the nation’s largest hospital network, according to two people familiar with the matter.
The two Catholic health organizations have been exploring the possibility of joining forces for months, according to one of the people who spoke to The Seattle Times on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive information.
One person familiar with the effort said the two systems have grown closer in recent weeks with the development of an agreement that would allow the two sides to share anonymized patient data. Another person, however, said that it did not appear that any deal was imminent.
Providence operates 50 hospitals, including Providence Regional Health Center Everett, the biggest hospital in Snohomish County. Providence also has several clinics in the county. Providence merged with Swedish Health Services in 2012, which means the organization also operates Swedish Edmonds Campus, which includes a hospital and several health centers.
It isn’t clear how the two organizations would consolidate administrative staff and executive leadership. One person, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the talks have included discussion about moving the joint headquarters to Chicago as part of the deal. That could impact thousands of staffers who work for Providence or for St. Louis-based Ascension.
A Providence spokeswoman declined to comment. A telephone message left with a spokesman for Ascension was not immediately returned.
The possible merger, first reported by The Wall Street Journal, would bring to a new level the consolidation trend in health care. The joint organization would account for 191 hospitals in more than half of the states, surpassing the 177 hospitals of HCA Healthcare.
The two systems now compete in largely different markets — Providence in the West, Ascension in the South and Midwest. The two have some overlap in Texas and also in Washington, where Ascension controls Pasco-based Lourdes Health Network.
The Journal reported the church authorities would need to sign off on any merger.
Providence began in the mid-1800s as a mission to Vancouver, Washington, where Catholic sisters established schools, hospitals and other facilities to care for burgeoning new communities.
Providence’s health-care mission has grown to become a dominant network across the West Coast.