Providence Hospital in Everett at sunset Monday night. Officials Providence St. Joseph Health Ascension Health reportedly are discussing a merger that would create a chain of hospitals, including Providence Regional Medical Center Everett, plus clinics and medical care centers in 26 states spanning both coasts. (Kevin Clark / The Daily Herald)

Providence Hospital in Everett at sunset Monday night. Officials Providence St. Joseph Health Ascension Health reportedly are discussing a merger that would create a chain of hospitals, including Providence Regional Medical Center Everett, plus clinics and medical care centers in 26 states spanning both coasts. (Kevin Clark / The Daily Herald)

Merger would make Providence part of health care behemoth

Providence St. Joseph Health and Ascension Health are said to be talking. Swedish would also be affected.

EVERETT — Snohomish County’s biggest hospital may soon be part of the nation’s largest hospital network.

Officials of Ascension Health and Providence St. Joseph Health reportedly are discussing a merger that would create a chain of hospitals, including Providence Regional Medical Center Everett, plus clinics and medical care centers in 26 states spanning both coasts.

Colleen Wadden, executive director of Reputation Communication for Providence St. Joseph Health in Washington, declined to comment Monday on the potential uniting of these two Catholic health system operators.

The possible merger, first reported by The Wall Street Journal, would result in a corporation overseeing 191 hospitals, surpassing the 177 hospitals of HCA Healthcare.

Gov. Jay Inslee and his top health care adviser were not aware of the potential merger before it was reported in the media, a spokeswoman for the governor said Monday.

Rumors of this mega-merger have been circulating for months, said D.J. Wilson of Edmonds, a health care policy strategist. That they became public this week may signal a formal announcement is imminent, he said.

While it looks to be a good marriage for the organizations because of their similar cultures, it doesn’t appear to provide any value to consumers or communities served by Providence, he said.

“This isn’t going to bring costs down,” he said. “I would see no near-term benefits or costs to the delivery of care in Snohomish County.”

However, if administrative operations are combined it could lead to layoffs at each of their respective headquarters, Wilson surmised.

Providence and Ascension now operate in largely different markets. Providence is mostly in the West and Ascension primarily in the South and Midwest, though it has hospitals in Maryland and Connecticut. The two health care systems each have operations in Texas and Washington.

Ascension, which is based in Missouri, is the largest nonprofit health system in the U.S. and the largest Catholic health system in the world.

It operates 141 hospitals, including the Lourdes Medical Center in Pasco plus several clinics in the Tri-Cities region. Overall, Ascension has 2,500 sites of care in 22 states and the District of Columbia, according to its website.

In 2016, Renton-based Providence Health & Services merged with St. Joseph Health to form Providence St. Joseph Health. It is providing medical care in Washington, California, Oregon, Alaska, Montana, New Mexico and Texas.

The chain operates 50 hospitals including Providence Regional Medical Center Everett, the biggest hospital in Snohomish County. Providence also has 829 clinics, including several in the county, and hundreds of programs and services, according to the company website.

Providence also merged with Swedish Health Services in 2012, which means the organization also operates the Swedish/Edmonds campus, which includes a hospital and health centers.

The leader of a health care workers union said regulators must make sure any deal does not harm consumers or employees.

“Mega-mergers like the potential Providence-Ascension merger warrant a significant level of scrutiny and must have a transparent public process,” said Robin Wyss, secretary-treasurer for SEIU Healthcare 1199NW.

The union represents 10,000 Providence workers, including the Providence Hospice and Home Care employees who conducted a three-day strike last week. The union also represents 70 employees at Ascension’s hospital in Pasco.

“We’ve consistently seen the wrong priorities from Providence. Expanding even larger does not bode well for care,” she said.

The merger is the latest major development in the area’s health care sector.

On Dec. 6, DaVita announced it is selling its medical group subsidiary, which includes The Everett Clinic, to UnitedHealth Group’s Optum unit.

The deal for $4.9 billion is expected to close in 2018 and is subject to regulatory approval and other closing conditions.

The sell-off comes roughly 18 months after Da Vita paid $405 million to acquire the independent Everett-based medical group.

And in November, it was announced that Virginia Mason Health System is acquiring Edmonds Family Medicine, an independent medical clinic serving south Snohomish and north King counties. The acquisition could be completed by January, officials said at the time.

This report includes material from Herald wire services.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; Twitter: @dospueblos.

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