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Steward’s plan to buy Fla. hospitals now on hold

Ralph de la Torre, Steward Health Care’s CEO, said he is open to talks but is not pursuing Jackson Health System in Miami. Ralph de la Torre, Steward Health Care’s CEO, said he is open to talks but is not pursuing Jackson Health System in Miami. (Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff/File 2010)
By Robert Weisman
Globe Staff / May 12, 2011

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Steward Health Care System, the Boston company created last year to build a national chain of for-profit hospitals, is no longer actively working to buy a group of Florida medical institutions.

Steward was formed by the New York private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management to operate the Caritas Christi Health Care hospitals, which Cerberus bought last fall. In February, the company proposed taking over the financially troubled Jackson Health System in Miami. Steward offered to pay $600 million, plus cover $500 million worth of debt.

A deal would have been its first foray outside of Massachusetts.

But the Miami public hospital system, which is overseen by the Miami-Dade County Commission, let a March 16 deadline for responding to Steward’s offer pass without taking any action.

Members of the commission and the Public Health Trust, which runs the Jackson system, have objected to Steward’s request for a 60-day exclusivity window to examine Jackson’s financial books and to prepare a formal bid, according to The Miami Herald.

The newspaper reported that the commission’s chairman, Joe Martinez, said selling the public hospital system to a for-profit buyer would be a “very, very, very last resort.’’ The system lost $105 million last year. Martinez did not return phone calls yesterday.

Steward’s chief executive, Ralph de la Torre, said his company is no longer pursuing the Florida hospital group, but would welcome hearing from county and hospital officials if they are interested in talking about a sale.

“We are waiting to see what the County Commission and the CEO of Jackson want to do,’’ de la Torre said.

Steward continues to scout for hospitals to buy in other states as well as in Massachusetts.

Last week, the company completed a $21 million acquisition of a pair of for-profit community hospitals, Merrimack Valley Hospital in Haverhill and Nashoba Valley Medical Center in Ayer.

It also has signed deals to buy two nonprofits: Morton Hospital and Medical Center in Taunton and Saints Medical Center in Lowell.

Steward is in the process of finishing capital improvement projects at the six Catholic hospitals in the Caritas Christi group. A newly completed radiation oncology center at its St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Brighton will be open for community tours on Saturday.

Robert Weisman can be reached at weisman@globe.com.