Duke LifePoint lines up big Pennsylvania purchase

LOI for system east of Pittsburgh would add nearly 600 beds

The joint venture between LifePoint Hospitals and Duke University has signed a letter of intent to acquire a three-hospital system in West Central Pennsylvania that also runs outpatient centers and physician group practices.

Terms of the agreement to buy Conemaugh Health System east of Pittsburgh were not disclosed in a release, but Duke LifePoint has agreed to invest more than $500 million over the next 10 years in the system, including investments in the next two years to build outpatient centers in nearby Richland and Ebensburg. Short-term investments also include building a medical education conference center and enhancements to the system's IT platform.

The deal will significantly grow Duke LifePoint, which was launched three years ago and already owns five hospitals. Pending federal and state approval, the deal would expand the partnership's reach into four states and add 595 beds to its current 962 beds in facilities across North Carolina, Michigan and Virginia.

"We're honored to be selected as Conemaugh's health care partner," said Bill Carpenter, LifePoint's chairman and CEO. "Conemaugh is an excellent health system with an unwavering commitment to its patients, employees and physicians. We look forward to exploring this potential partnership and working with Conemaugh to further strengthen and advance health care throughout this region."

Duke LifePoint has agreed to maintain all of Conemaugh's active employees under the acquisition, which is expected to close in the fall. The system has more than 4,500 employees and 350 physicians in its Conemaugh Physician Group.

"Today's announcement marks a banner day for our community," said Ron Vickroy, chairman of the Conemaugh Health System board of directors. "Through a thoughtful, deliberate exploration process, our board's goal was to find a partner that would strengthen quality and access to care, as well as bring substantial investment and resources to our community. We believe that Duke LifePoint is the perfect fit, and we are thrilled to move forward together."

Shares of LifePoint (Ticker: LPNT) were down slightly in late-morning trading to $51.15. Over the past three months, they have risen 1 percent.