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Amy Umble is health reporter for The Free Lance-Star

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Any recent history of Virginia hospitals has to include a chapter on mergers

Katharine Webb

As a senior vice president at the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association for 30 years, Katharine Webb has watched as Virginia hospitals have joined one another in corporate marriages.

These mergers and acquisitions started in the 1990s, she said last week in an interview. They’ve continued to the present, with Sentara’s purchase of Halifax Regional Health System in October being the latest. Virginia still has 100-plus acute care hospitals, she said, however most are now part of bigger chains.

“The consolidation has come in waves and it’s taken different forms,” she said.

What follows is a brief outline of those waves of change, as described by Webb:

* The consolidation started in the Roanoke area when Roanoke Memorial signed management agreements with smaller hospitals around them. The hospitals eventually became partners and today they are known as Carilion Clinic. Something similar happened in Northern Virginia when Fairfax Hospital joined with its neighbors. That group is now known as the Inova chain.

* The second wave centered around Columbia/HCA and its chief executive, Rick Scott, Webb said. Columbia/HCA owned hospitals in Reston, Richmond and Salem. Then it bought Alleghany Regional Hospital in Covington and John Randolph Medical Center in Hopewell.

* A third wave occurred in the Tidewater area with the creation of Sentara Healthcare, from the union of hospitals like Norfolk General, Leigh Memorial and Virginia Beach General.

* Hospital companies from outside the state have been active in buying Virginia hospitals.  Lifepoint Hospitals, a Tennessee chain, purchased hospitals in Danville, Wytheville, Martinsville and Richlands. Community Health Systems, also from Tennessee, bought hospitals in Emporia, Franklin and Petersburg.

* The most recent wave has taken place closer to the Fredericksburg area with the purchase of Prince William Hospital by Novant Health of North Carolina, the merger of U.Va. and Culpeper Regional Hospital, and the sale of Potomac, Rockingham Memorial, Martha Jefferson and Halifax hospitals to Sentara.

The result is that there are just a handful of independent hospitals left in Virginia. Mary Washington, Stafford and Fauquier are among them.

(Sunday’s story about Mary Washington Healthcare’s desire to remain an independent hospital company can be found here.)