BRIDGEPORT: St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Bridgeport and its parent Ascension Health have signed a non-binding letter of intent with Hartford HealthCare for Hartford to acquire St. Vincent’s and all of its related operations.

The merger is a strategic move by Hartford HealthCare that could signal the start of a shake up of the Southern Connecticut healthcare industry and provide the first real competition for the Yale New Haven Health System in decades.

Ascension based in St. Louis, MO is the largest non-profit health system in the U.S. and the world’s largest Catholic health system, but only St. Vincent’s in Connecticut is part of their system.

St. Vincent’s has more than 3,200 employees, a licensed 473-bed community teaching hospital, a 76-bed inpatient psychiatric facility in Westport, a large multispecialty provider group, and St. Vincent’s Special Needs Services.

The cross town rival, the 375 bed Bridgeport Hospital is part of the Yale New Haven Health System and affiliated with the Yale School of Medicine.

The organizations, both non-profits say if the transaction is completed, "Hartford HealthCare would continue to operate St. Vincent’s in compliance with Catholic traditions.”

In 2012, Connecticut’s Permanent Commission on the Status of Women inserted itself into merger talks between Waterbury Hospital and Saint Mary’s with LHP Group a for-profit Texas company that sought to invest $400 million in the combined hospitals. The deal was never consummated over an impasse on how to offer reproductive services for women, a service the Catholic managed Saint Mary’s would not agree to offer. The hospital offered to create a “Women’s Health Center” across from the hospital to provide the abortion services. The compromise was rejected by the women’s group and eventually the Malloy Administration scuttled the takeover.

The HHC, St Vincent’s transaction would not include St. Vincent’s College.

“Our goal, in coordination with the Board of St. Vincent’s, has been to position St. Vincent’s so its associates, physicians and volunteers can continue to provide safe, high-quality healthcare to the Bridgeport and Fairfield County community,” said Patricia A. Maryland, Dr.PH, Executive Vice President of Ascension and President and Chief Executive Officer of Ascension Healthcare. “In our rapidly evolving healthcare environment, healthcare providers have a greater opportunity to successfully serve individuals and communities by working in clinically integrated systems of care. And Hartford HealthCare is Connecticut’s most comprehensive healthcare network.”

Hartford HealthCare, has more than 19,000 employees and includes acute-care hospitals, “the state’s most extensive behavioral health network,” a large multispecialty physician group, a regional home care system, an array of senior care services, a physical therapy and rehabilitation network, and an accountable care organization. “Together, we can provide even broader access to St. Vincent’s excellent care to residents of Fairfield County,” said Elliot Joseph, chief executive officer of Hartford HealthCare. “

“Hartford HealthCare’s mission, vision and values are compatible with those of Ascension and St. Vincent’s,” said Dawn Rudolph, President and CEO. St. Vincent’s. “We are looking forward to reaching an agreement that reaffirms our commitment to serving the Fairfield County community. During this time, we know that all of our associates, physicians and volunteers remain committed to delivering the same type of safe, compassionate, personalized care our community has come to expect.”