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Deal completed, Tufts, Lowell General look to expand

Tufts Medical Center and Lowell General Hospital joined together under a new parent company Wednesday and are looking to expand their network to compete with other health systems.

So far, the parent company, named Wellforce, includes just the two hospitals, but executives said the company's future acquisitions may include hospitals, doctors' groups, or other health care businesses.

"This isn't about buildings, and this isn't about hospitals, but it's about people and physicians and nurses caring for people," said Ellen Zane, vice chairwoman at Tufts and chairwoman of its new parent. "We view ourselves as a group of providers, with hospitals being part of the continuum, but not being at the center of the universe."

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The merger pairs two similarly sized institutions: Tufts, a teaching hospital in Boston's Chinatown, has 415 beds, and Lowell General, a community hospital north of Boston, has 434 beds. Together, the hospitals employ about 8,600 people.

The deal comes as competitors of both hospitals are also forming larger networks. Partners HealthCare, the state's biggest health system, is awaiting approval to acquire three community hospitals. Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Steward Health Care, and Lahey Health have also sought to acquire more hospitals.

The Health Policy Commission, a watchdog agency, said last month that it would not conduct a detailed analysis of the Tufts-Lowell General deal, because the deal was not likely to raise costs.

The commission said the merger could even reduce costs by sending more patients to Tufts over Boston's more expensive academic medical centers.

Normand E. Deschene, chief executive of Lowell General and the new parent company, said he believes Wellforce will attract several other health care organizations.

"We do think this is a unique model and is going to offer some change in the marketplace," he said. "There are other like-minded organizations that want to be part of a larger system . . . but still preserve their autonomy."

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Tufts and Lowell General will keep their top executives and their boards. Each hospital will have equal members on the parent company's board.


Priyanka Dayal McCluskey can be reached at priyanka.mccluskey@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @priyanka_dayal.