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Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Atrium Health closes merger with Illinois’ Advocate Aurora

Atrium Health announced Friday that it’s closed a merger deal with Illinois-based Advocate Aurora Health, forming a new health care organization called Advocate Health that will serve six million patients across six states.

It will be the fifth-largest nonprofit health care system in the country, according to a news release. Charlotte-based Atrium announced the merger back in the spring but it required federal regulatory approval.

Late Thursday, Attorney General Josh Stein said that he has no legal authority to block the deal, but he still has concerns about the impact of the merger on health care in North Carolina.

“My office has conducted a thorough review into this transaction and concluded that there is no legal basis to prevent it,” Stein said in a news release. “I appreciate Atrium’s efforts to respond to our numerous inquiries and its commitments to comply with its obligations under the antitrust consent order with my office, as well as our state law’s requirements governing municipal hospitals across its service area.

“However, I am concerned about this combination’s possible effects on health care access in rural and urban underserved communities. Atrium has estimated that it will invest $25-50 million in the coming years to expand services in underserved communities in North Carolina; given the size and strength of this new combined entity, it is my strong belief that it can and should do more.”

Friday’s news release says the new Advocate Health will “bring medical innovations to patients more quickly, address the root causes of health inequities, advance population health, enable career advancement and achieve carbon neutrality by 2030.”

The new entity will have its headquarters in Charlotte, and North Carolina services will keep the Atrium Health brand. National Gypsum CEO Tom Nelson of Charlotte will chair new board made up equally of Atrium and Advocate Aurora members.

State Treasurer Dale Folwell, a fierce critic of the state’s hospitals, said Friday he has “deep concerns about the move,” arguing that there’s “widespread evidence that mergers make hospital care less affordable and less safe.”

He also criticized Stein’s lack of action, saying “the attorney general has failed the patients and taxpayers of North Carolina yet again.”

Stein said a few months ago that he’d like to work on legislation that could give his office more teeth to review hospital sales and mergers, in collaboration with the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, to ensure they’re in the public’s best interest. He says Tennessee has a regulatory structure that could serve as a model for North Carolina.

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