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New Wellstar, Augusta U Health merger enters legal review

Marietta, Ga.-based Wellstar Health System and Augusta (Ga.) University Health System have finalized their merger agreement, The Augusta Chronicle reported May 2. 

The office of Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr received the notice on April 28. The merger will now move into the next phase: a legal review followed by a public hearing. 

If approved, the merger would create Wellstar MCG health, making Wellstar a sole corporate member of AU Health. Wellstar will commit to spend $797 million over the next decade, including the construction of a hospital in Columbia County (Ga.), implementation of the Epic EHR and improvements to the AU Medical Center campus. 

The deal includes a 40-year contract between Wellstar and the University System of Georgia Board of Regents, who oversee AU Health. The contract can only be ended through mutual agreement, an illegal finding in the contract, or a breach of contract that creates "long-term corporate or financial harm" to the opposite party. 

Wellstar will take on some of AU Health's debt, and a member of the AU Health board will sit on Wellstar's board of trustees. 

State lawmakers and civil rights groups — including the Fulton County (Ga.) Commission and the NAACP — have raised concerns about the merger, since Wellstar closed two Atlanta hospitals serving largely Black populations last fall. The health system says it has been searching for another health system partner "well before" its decision to close Atlanta Medical Center and Atlanta Medical Center South, alleging the partnership will enable it to thrive in today's healthcare environment.

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