University Hospital moved closer to acquiring McDuffie Regional Medical Center on Thursday when a University board approved the memorandum of understanding.
University Health Inc. approved the agreement, which calls for University to acquire the Thomson hospital and its assets and build a replacement hospital of the same size. University would agree to retain current employees at equivalent wages and provide the same level of services.
Talks have been ongoing for about a year as economic forces have worked against smaller hospitals such as McDuffie Regional, University CEO Jim Davis said. Mergers and acquisitions in health systems are up 300 percent this year across the country, he said.
McDuffie Regional has also struggled to get capital for a much-needed replacement for an aging building, he said.
"In order to make this work, McDuffie has a huge need for a new facility," Davis said.
University has an option on land near U.S. Highway 78 and Interstate 20 where it would build the replacement hospital, said Ed Burr, the vice president of legal affairs. The move could double the potential patient draw from its current 40,000, he said.
"We also see a huge opportunity for us to actually move the facility into the I-20 corridor to enable more people to have access to it than where it is currently," Davis said.
University will take the next 60 days for "due diligence" before submitting the acquisition to the Georgia Attorney General's Office for review, Davis said. Part of that review process is a public hearing that will probably be held in Thomson, Burr said.
The deal would create a new nonprofit to run McDuffie Regional, and the hospital's current authority would get to appoint 35 percent of its board members.
"The board is very excited about it, our employees are excited about it, and the community is excited," said McDuffie Regional Board Chairman Bill Doupé.