Ascension Health and Alexian Brothers Health complete merger; Lawsuits, declining revenue threaten St. Joseph Medical Center;

> A November study that found four common drugs cause two-thirds of drug-related hospitalizations prompted senators to call for a federal task force, reports The Hill's Healthwatch. Sens. Michael Bennett (D-Colo.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) want the task force to "look more critically" at patient medication guides, transitions of care, coordination of electronic health records and changes in Medicare reimbursement due to adverse drug events, according to a Dec. 28 letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Blog post 

> As of Jan. 1, the merger between St. Louis-based Ascension Health and Chicago's Alexian Brothers Health System has gone into effect, reports Crain's Chicago Business. The nation's largest Catholic health system announced its plan to merge with Alexian in April of 2011. Article

> The move toward smoke-free hospitals gained another supporter, Geisinger Health System, reports The Patriot-News. Last week, the Pennsylvania health system announced that starting Feb. 1, it will no longer hire people who use tobacco. Article

> Sanford Health, headquartered in Fargo, N.D., and Sioux Falls, S.D., is in talks about a possible merger and ways to combine services with Bismarck, N.D.-based Medcenter One, reports the Great Plains Examiner. Article

> Hundreds of lawsuits and declining revenue is threatening the survival of Maryland's St. Joseph Medical Center (not to mention allegations that unnecessary stents took place there), reports The Baltimore Sun. If the hospital doesn't find a "strategic partner," St. Joseph may have to eliminate some of its operations. Article

And Finally... Fraudster tries to use $1 million-bill at Walmart. Article