Owner of N.H. hospitals in giant LBO

HCA, owner of four for-profit health-care facilities in New Hampshire, yesterday agreed to be acquired in a deal that ranks as the biggest leveraged buyout in history.

The company – the nation’s largest for-profit hospital operator — said the consortium of private investors acquiring it will pay about $21 billion. The investors will also take on about $11.7 billion of HCA’s debt, making it the far larger than the previous largest LBO, the $25 billion takeover of RJR Nabisco in 1989 by Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Company.

HCA’s board approved the merger agreement and plans to recommend the deal to HCA’s shareholders.

The group of buyers is led by the family of U.S. Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tennessee, the Senate majority leader. His father Thomas Frist Sr. and his brother Thomas F. Frist Jr. founded HCA. The Frist family currently holds a 4.4 percent stake in the company. The other investors are Bain Capital, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts and the private equity arm of Merrill Lynch.

Under terms of the agreement, stockholders will receive $51 in cash for each common share they own.

Shares of HCA were up $1.61, or 3.36 percent, to $49.48 at the close of trading yesterday. The stock has been traded between $41.80 and $52.74 over the last 52 weeks.

HCA, formerly known as Hospital Corp. of America, was founded in 1968 and currently owns and operates 182 hospitals and 94 surgery centers and other facilities. Among its New Hampshire holdings are Portsmouth Regional Hospital, Parkland Medical Center in Derry, Portsmouth Regional Ambulatory Surgery Center and the Salem Surgery Center.

HCA was previously involved in one buyout, which took it private in 1989. It returned to public ownership in 1992 before merging with Columbia Healthcare Inc. the following year. – JEFF FEINGOLD

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