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Sentara-Cone merger faces opposition from providers

Providers in North Carolina have raised concerns about a proposed merger between Sentara Healthcare and Cone Health in public comment shared with the state's Department of Justice.

The North Carolina Department of Justice accepted public comment on the merger from March 24 through April 28. State Attorney General Josh Stein's review of the proposed deal is required by North Carolina law for charitable corporations selling a majority of assets. His approval isn't required, but his office could sue to intervene in the merger.

One note of opposition shared with Mr. Stein came from a family physician with Greensboro, N.C.-based Cone Health. Kurt Lauenstein, MD, expressed concerns that merging with Norfolk, Va.-based Sentara would bring together two organizations with "different culture and needs." Dr. Lauenstein argued that administrative burden has increased and could continue to increase as Cone grows.

Additionally, a lawyer representing Randolph Health raised concerns about the future ownership of a cancer center that the Asheboro, N.C.-based hospital jointly operates with Cone. Cone has a 40 percent stake in the center, with Randolph owning the rest.

Alternatively, the deal, which is expected to form a 17-hospital, $11.5 billion system, could be an opportunity for Cone to join a network with a larger reach, former Cone CEO Tim Rice said in response to the attorney general.

"Sentara has committed to investing strongly in our communities — providing much needed capital to the system to assist it in meeting community needs that it simply could not do itself," Mr. Rice said in his April 14 comment. Mr. Rice retired from Cone six years ago.

Becker's Hospital Review reached out to Cone for comment on the opposition. The health system said it does not have anything to add. Sentara told Becker's it couldn't provide comment on the responses to the attorney general.

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