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September 24--  The nation's largest publicly held hospital group is buying Meadows Regional Medical Center in Vidalia.

Meadows Chief Executive Officer Alan Kent says Meadows Health has signed a letter of intent with the Hospital Corporation of America for the sale which could become final next Spring.  The exact purchase price will be determined after a period of due diligence and will cover the $65 million outstanding loan which Meadows currently has with the federal government for construction of the new hospital several years ago.

Even though Meadows is making money, Kent says the financial woes plaguing rural hospitals made it imperative to plan for the future, "There's a sense of relief knowing we have a company we're joining that's very secure, that employees are going to have jobs, we're not going to have massive layoffs and we're not going to close services.  As they've come to us, they've said we would like to keep employees and I'm planning on staying as well."

HCA has committed to guarantee jobs for one year after the deal is completed, and, according to Kent, the company brings a lot to the table, "They now operate 185 hospitals, they have many urgent care centers, they employ almost 5,000 physicians, they employ over 250,000 people and operate hospitals in 21 states and Great Britain."

HCA has nine hospitals in Georgia and, as a for-profit hospital, will contribute to the local tax base.

Meadows issued the following press release regarding the sale.