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Owner of Deaconess, Valley hospitals exploring options for troubled company

By John Lauerman Bloomberg News

Community Health Systems Inc., a troubled U.S. hospital chain with a market value of about $1.4 billion, said it’s exploring a variety of options with its financial advisers.

Locally, the company owns Deaconess and Valley hospitals and Rockwood Clinic, which operate as Rockwood Health System and employ more than 3,600 people.

The discussions are at a very preliminary stage and there’s no timeline for the review, the Tennessee-based company said Monday in a statement. Community Health said there is no certainty of a deal and it won’t make further public comment while the process is underway. Earlier this summer, company officials said they were working on deals to sell about a dozen of the chain’s 200-plus medical centers and affiliated clinics.

The stock fell as much as 6.3 percent to $11.52 Monday, after jumping 16 percent Friday following a Bloomberg News report that the company was exploring a possible sale. Community Health’s high level of long-term debt – about $15 billion as of June – combined with operational issues facing the company, could limit the number of potential buyers, a person familiar with the talks said last week.

Another hurdle might be that many of Community Health’s hospitals are struggling with low or negative margins and may have trouble finding a buyer among other hospital chains, according to Sheryl Skolnick, an analyst with Mizuho Securities. Community Health might get sold in whole or in part, and the entire hospital chain would likely bring a price of about $9.61 a share in a “non-distressed” sale, the analyst wrote in a note to investors Sunday.

Before Friday’s move, the shares had plunged 75 percent in the past 12 months.

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