Public hearing Tuesday for proposed Wellstar, Augusta University Health merger

Credit: Courtesy photo

Credit: Courtesy photo

The public will get its chance Tuesday to weigh in on the pending merger between Wellstar Health System and Augusta University’s hospitals.

The Georgia attorney general’s office will hold a public hearing at 1 p.m. Tuesday, June 27, at Lee Auditorium, 1459 Laney Walker Blvd. in Augusta. Georgia law requires a hearing to ensure the public’s interest is protected in such deals involving nonprofit hospitals.

Wellstar said its president and CEO Candice Saunders and general counsel Leo Reichert will provide testimony at the hearing.

In late March, the Georgia Board of Regents agreed to let Marietta-based Wellstar take over management and funding of the Augusta University Health System, which includes the flagship Augusta University Medical Center.

Under the deal, the Augusta health system will be renamed Wellstar MCG Health.

The attorney general has 30 days after the hearing to issue a report on the proposal, though that timeline can be extended if needed. The review is to determine if the terms of the deal are deemed reasonable and if there are “sufficient safeguards” to make sure access to affordable care continues, among other considerations.

The proposed agreement, obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution through an open records request, calls for Wellstar to spend at least $797 million on capital projects over a decade. That includes building and opening a new Columbia County hospital and an adjacent medical office building and investments at the Augusta hospital.

Wellstar also is to maintain the Augusta hospital, which serves as a training site for the Medical College of Georgia, as an academic medical center.

The deal also references the plan to update the electronic medical records system for the medical school, to be funded with $105 million in state dollars approved by lawmakers and the governor earlier this year.

The records system for the Augusta hospitals is to be fully integrated into Wellstar’s system within three years, according to the agreement.

Federal regulators must also review the hospital merger before it’s finalized. Wellstar said Wednesday that it has submitted its filing to the Federal Trade Commission for antitrust review.

University System officials have said the deal will improve health care access and offer more opportunities for physician training at the state’s only public medical college.