St. Joseph enters into agreement with University of Maryland Medical System

Memorial Hospital of Cumberland joined with Sacred Heart Hospital in the 1990s but continued performing sterilizations and other reproductive services. Both hospitals were eventually torn down and replaced with one hospital: Western Maryland Regional Medical System, which does not follow Catholic doctrine.

When Liberty Medical Center in West Baltimore merged with Bon Secours Baltimore Health System in the 1990s, it adopted Catholic practices.

Columbia-based MedStar Health has three Catholic institutions in its nine-hospital system. The hospitals act independently, so religious-based hospitals follow Catholic doctrines and the other affiliates follow their own rules.

LifeBridge Health had sought a partnership with St. Joseph even though some of its hospitals are Jewish institutions. LifeBridge officials thought it would help the system expand geographically.

LifeBridge spokeswoman Jill Bloom wished UMMS luck Friday. "We put our best foot forward," Bloom said. "We put a lot of work into the deal, and we would have liked to have been the one who they chose. But we're still a very strong system."

St. Agnes was the only Catholic bidder.

"St. Agnes Hospital was honored to participate in this process," spokeswoman Kirstan Cecil said. "We are confident that University of Maryland Medical Center will provide excellent leadership during this transition while continuing to provide a high level of care to the patients of the Northern Baltimore area."

St. Joseph will join a system that has been rapidly expanding over the past decade, using its reputation and strong finances to lure smaller community hospitals. The aggressive expansion has enabled UMMS, which includes its medical school, to double in size to 12 hospitals in the past six years, expanding its reach to almost every corner of the state.

With operating revenue of $2.3 billion and 15,200 employees, the system owns more Maryland hospitals than any other entity. MedStar is the next largest, with six hospitals in Maryland and three in Washington, D.C.

Robert A. Chrencik, president and CEO of UMMS, told The Balltimore Sun in December that St. Joseph's financial situation was troubling but that his system had the "medical horsepower" to turn it around.

He said it would allow the University of Maryland to move into a part of the state where it doesn't have a presence. Many Maryland graduates practice at St. Joseph, and Chrencik said Maryland's strong cardiovascular, orthopedic and cancer practices would fill voids at St. Joseph.

andrea.walker@baltsun.com

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