Advocate-Aurora merger clears final regulatory hurdle, set to close on April 1 

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The new Advocate Aurora Health system will include 27 hospitals and more than 500 sites of care. (Pixabay)

Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care's planned merger has cleared regulatory review, setting the stage for the deal to be finalized in the coming weeks.

The merger, which will form the 10th-largest health system in the U.S., is expected to close on April 1, according to an announcement. It was approved Thursday by Wisconsin's Office of the Commissioner of Insurance, following approvals from the Federal Trade Commission and the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board.  

Once united, the joint entity will operate as Advocate Aurora Health. The merged system will include 27 hospitals and more than 500 sites of care, staffed by more than 3,000 doctors and nearly 70,000 staff members in other roles. 

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"We're full steam ahead," Advocate CEO Jim Skogsbergh said a statement. "A team of leaders from both systems have developed a comprehensive integration plan that will allow us to accelerate our efforts on safety, health outcomes and consumer experience, while delivering value for the patients, communities and employers who count on us." 

RELATED: 13 healthcare M&A deals that made headlines in 2017 

Advocate and Aurora have a combined annual revenue of about $11 billion. Skogsbergh and Aurora CEO Nick Turkal, M.D., will serve as co-CEOs of the new unified system. Its board of directors will also include an equal number of representatives from Advocate and Aurora.

The goal of the merger, the two health systems said, is to improve access and efficiency while still providing high-quality care to patients in both Wisconsin and Illinois. 

"Our merger represents a tremendous opportunity to elevate the strengths of two great organizations to shape a better future for those we serve," Turkal said in the statement. 

RELATED: Advocate Health Care switches to Epic EHR ahead of planned merger with Aurora

Another challenge the merger surmounted over the past several months was integrating three electronic health record platforms. Advocate announced that it would switch to Epic to align with Aurora, which was already using that EHR platform. Advocate is switching from a mix of Cerner and Allscripts EHRs, and the move will strip the latter company of one of its biggest clients. The replacement is expected to take three years, and a spokesperson for Advocate said the switch would "improve care coordination and operational efficiency." 

The number of hospital mergers announced last year increased 13% when compared with 2017, and analysts say that the trend is not likely to slow down anytime soon. Big-ticket deals, like the one between Advocate and Aurora, have notably been on the rise; 11 deals in 2017 included combined revenues of $1 billion or more. 

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