RWJBarnabas Health signed a nonbinding letter of intent to explore a future partnership with Saint Peter’s Healthcare System.
Officials did not call the proposed arrangement a merger or acquisition, instead saying the structure of the relationship has not yet been decided.
It comes after Saint Peter's announced a request for proposals in 2018 seeking a strategic partner. The announcement came after a comprehensive and detailed analysis of the organization, its Catholic mission, the competitive market and broader industry trends.
RWJBarnabas is one of New Jersey’s largest academic health systems with a service area of nine counties covering 5 million people. The system includes 11 acute care hospitals, three acute care children’s hospitals and a pediatric rehabilitation hospital.
It's part of ongoing growth moves by RWJBarnabas in the last year. In June, RWJBarnabas and Rutgers solidified their academic medical center partnership with a $750 million cancer center plan. It came less than a year after the two organizations first announced their $1 billion academic medical partnership.
In October, RWJBarnabas announced is was acquiring another New Jersey-based Catholic health system: Trinitas Regional Medical Center.
Saint Peter’s University Hospital is Saint Peter's 478-bed acute care teaching hospital sponsored by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Metuchen. It also has the Children’s Hospital at Saint Peter’s. The health system is one of a few independent Catholic hospitals in the country sponsored by a Roman Catholic diocese.
Under the terms of the agreement with RWJBarnabas, the larger health system would make "significant investments" in Saint Peter's and expand the network of outpatient services it provides. Saint Peter's would remain a Catholic institution and abide by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services.
"The rapid consolidation of hospitals in New Jersey and need for greater scale, as well as ongoing changes in health care delivery made it vital for us to identify a dynamic and strong strategic partner that would allow Saint Peter’s to retain its Catholic mission and identity, remain competitive, and yield the best possible outcome for our patients, employees, medical staff and the communities we serve," said Leslie Hirsch, president and CEO of Saint Peter’s Healthcare System, in a statement. “Working in partnership with RWJBarnabas Health would give us an opportunity to enhance the unique strengths of both organizations.”
Both health systems will enter due diligence to define the specifics of the new relationship, and approvals will be needed from state and federal regulators as well as the Catholic Church.
Barry Ostrowsky, president and CEO of RWJBarnabas Health, said a potential deal between the two health systems already has "tremendous support" from municipal, county and state elected officials.
“The rapidly changing health care landscape presents new challenges and opportunities," Ostrowsky said. "Saint Peter’s is a vital resource to central New Jersey, and through this agreement, we would greatly enhance our commitment in these communities with our mission of improving the health and well-being of its residents.