Officials with Fort Smith-based Cooper Clinic and the Mercy Health System clinic in Fort Smith announced Thursday (Sept. 7) they are in discussions about a possible merger.
The announcement follows several weeks of rumors and anonymous tips to Talk Business & Politics that Cooper Clinic was considering acquisition and merger offers from several entities.
“Members of both boards feel strongly about retaining the excellent physicians currently practicing in Fort Smith and are committed to the sustainability and growth of the city and region’s medical community,” noted a short statement from Mercy Clinic. “Board members’ focus during the merger exploration will be the health and wellness of people in the community, the integration and best utilization of staff, and what is beneficial for all. When the boards have come to a decision regarding the viability of a merger, they will make a combined announcement.”
The Mercy system is based in St. Louis and includes 44 acute care and specialty (heart, children’s, orthopedic and rehab) hospitals, more than 700 physician practices and outpatient facilities, 40,000 co-workers and more than 2,000 Mercy Clinic physicians in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma.
Cooper Clinic, independent and physician-owned, has been in operation more than 97 years and has physicians who practice in 25 specialties. When the clinic opened in 1920 by Dr. St. Cloud Cooper, its offices were on the sixth floor of the First National Bank of Fort Smith building in downtown Fort Smith.
Mercy Senior Media Relations Specialist Jennifer Cook said the company could not answer questions related to the discussions and referred Talk Business & Politics back to the press release. She said Cooper Clinics and Mercy Clinics had signed off on the release.
Talk Business & Politics had also reached out to Cooper representatives who confirmed as much.
“Cooper Clinic does not have any additional information to add to the press release issued by Jennifer Cook,” said Cooper Clinic Marketing and Communications Manager Nancy Blochberger. “When the Boards of Cooper Clinic and Mercy have come to a decision regarding the viability of a merger, a combined announcement will be issued.”
Blochberger said Cooper has “about 80 providers.”
Neither representative could discuss what precipitated the merger talks, nor an expected resolution date. The fate of a pending lawsuit initiated by Cooper against Mercy in August of 2013 was also off the table. In the 17-page complaint filed in Sebastian County Circuit Court, Cooper Clinic officials alleged Mercy and its parent company used their economic power to recruit 15 physicians away from Cooper and to Mercy Clinic between Oct. 31, 2010 and Aug. 1, 2013.
In a five-page response filed Sept. 4, 2013, Mercy attorneys said Cooper’s claim “for tortious interference, as pled, is vague and ambiguous, and until Cooper offers clarification regarding its allegations, the defendants cannot reasonably be required to frame a responsive pleading.”
The lawsuit was dismissed earlier this year.