Blaszyk said negotiations with U.S. HealthWorks began in April, and Dignity fended off competition from a bevy of private-equity firms before reaching the agreement. Neither side disclosed financial details of the transaction.
“We were overwhelmed by interest; you should know that U.S. HealthWorks was hotly pursued,” said Daniel Crowley, the company's president and CEO.
Crowley said there were more than 20 parties interested in purchasing the company. Combining with Dignity gives U.S. HealthWorks a chance to grow its brand and expand to new regions, Crowley added. He will continue in his role as president and CEO with U.S. HealthWorks, which will function as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Dignity. Dignity says it also will offer employment to U.S. HealthWorks workers after the purchase becomes official.
The transaction serves as a unique opportunity for Dignity to expand, Blaszyk said. There's also little chance for this type of deal to be duplicated, as there aren't many national chains like U.S. HealthWorks, said Lou Ellen Horwitz, executive director for the Chicago-based Urgent Care Association of America. She was caught off-guard by the deal and said this was the first time a regional health system had purchased a national chain of urgent-care centers.
“Maybe Dignity was looking for a foot to expand and this was the only foot available,” Horwitz said. She also compared the deal to 2010 when insurer Humana spent $790 million to purchase Concentra and its 548 clinics in 42 states: “It's part of a larger strategic plan for the purchasing organization,” she said. “It's not necessarily because they want to grow the urgent-care business.”
Horwitz also said the addition of the U.S. HealthWorks facilities could serve Dignity well as the Affordable Care Act yields millions of newly insured patients with a shortage of primary-care providers in many communities. Those patients are going to need a place to find care, Horwitz said, and “the only logical places are going to be urgent-care centers.”
Lisa Goldstein, an associate managing director for health practices at Moody's Investors Service, equated the deal with the forming of an accountable care organization or nontraditional partnerships of payers and providers collaborating to reduce costs.
What's untraditional now, though, may become the new norm for the industry, Goldstein said. “We see it as indicative of the new type of partnerships that we are seeing now driven by the need to grow in scale and the need to expand outpatient or ambulatory care.”
Blaszyk echoed that assessment. “That's what this national health reform is about, that's what we're about and we think this moves us down the road to this journey,” he said.
Earlier this year, Dignity changed names from Catholic Healthcare West and severed formal ties from the Roman Catholic Church. The restructuring was intended to make the system more nimble, and it did, Blaszyk said.
The changes sped up the board approval process and allowed Dignity to compete with the other interested parties even though Dignity showed interest about a month after U.S. HealthWorks was on the market, Blaszyk said. “We rose to the task and were able to keep pace with the game.”