Hospital unmerger Deal's off: Combining institutions is difficult, as North Arundel and Mercy illustrated.


NORTH ARUNDEL Health System finds itself without a partner -- again. Talks between the Glen Burnie-based hospital and Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore broke down earlier this month, as the two medical institutions decided to cancel their announced merger.

Just two years earlier, North Arundel dropped merger talks with the other large general hospital in the county, Anne Arundel Medical Center in Annapolis.

There is nothing alarming about the North Arundel's failure to join with Mercy. Hospital mergers, announced with great fanfare, at times aren't consummated.

In late April, the boards of the Greater Baltimore Medical Center and St. Joseph Medical Center, both in Towson, decided not to join operations.

Two of Maryland's largest medical organizations -- Johns Hopkins Health Systems and Helix Health -- talked for months last year and nearer an agreement before breaking off negotiations.

Although most hospitals have discovered that in today's cost-conscious environment they have difficulty operating as free-standing entities, landing the right match isn't easy. Institutions have legacies that they don't want to sacrifice. Or, management cultures clash. Or, religious issues such as abortion, sterilization and in-vitro fertilization prevent Catholic hospitals from making a suitable pact with non-sectarian institutions.

North Arundel does not offer obstetric services, so reproductive issues did not muddle the talks with Mercy. The two boards have decided not to comment on their merger that wasn't, but the organizations did discover ways to improve efficiency. North Arundel and Mercy are merging their home health agencies and are exploring how to grow existing partnerships, such as the year-old primary care center they share in Brooklyn Park.

Chances are that North Arundel will find a partner in time. No sooner did the deal crumble with Mercy, New Children's Hospital in Baltimore approached North Arundel about a possible combination.

Pub Date: 5/28/98

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