Georgia attorney general approves Wellstar, Augusta University Health deal

Agreement also requires a review from federal regulators



The Georgia attorney general’s office on Thursday signed off on a plan for Wellstar Health System to take control of Augusta University’s hospitals.

The approval, which came via a 16-page report, checks off one more legally required step to complete a merger that officials first proposed publicly in December.

Officials from Wellstar, Augusta University Health System and the University System of Georgia, which oversees the school and the state’s lone public medical college, issued a joint statement late Thursday saying that they “are working diligently toward the goal of completing the deal this summer.”

The agreement would give Marietta-based Wellstar control to manage and fund the health system, which includes the flagship Augusta University Medical Center.

Wellstar would commit to spend at least $797 million on capital projects over a decade. That includes building a new Columbia County hospital and an adjacent medical office building, plus investments at the Augusta hospital.

Proponents have touted the pact as a way to inject financial support into the health system, which has an outstanding debt of roughly $234 million, as well as boost health care access and increase physician training opportunities at the Medical College of Georgia.

Others have urged caution, citing Wellstar’s decision to close two Atlanta-area hospitals last year. The hospital group had said it wasn’t financially feasible to maintain those locations.

Before any deal with the Augusta hospital system can be finalized, the state attorney general’s office had to determine if it meets legal muster.

Senior Assistant Attorney General Alkesh Patel wrote in his report the process undertaken to negotiate the agreement “demonstrates the exercise of due diligence.”

The report also considered potential conflicts of interest, the valuation of hospital assets and Wellstar’s commitment to provide access to affordable care and maintain services. It found no issues with those areas.

“Pursuant to the agreement, Wellstar has made various commitments regarding maintenance of the core healthcare services provided by AUHS,” the report states.

Federal regulators also must review the deal. In June, Wellstar said it had submitted its filing to the Federal Trade Commission for antitrust review.

In the joint statement from Wellstar, Augusta University Health System and the University System of Georgia, the parties said “work remains to be done before the transaction is complete.”

They added: “We look forward to combining the best of community healthcare and academic medicine to improve quality and safety while driving world-class care advances where Georgians need them most.”