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Steward Health calls off sale of physician network to Optum in bankruptcy setback

Rockledge Regional Medical Center in Brevard County is among eight hospitals operated in Florida by Steward Health.
Rockledge Regional Medical Center
Rockledge Regional Medical Center in Brevard County is among eight hospitals operated in Florida by Steward Health.

Steward, which owns eight hospitals in Florida, said it continues to seek other buyers. The struggling health system considered the proposed sale key to its Chapter 11 restructuring.

Steward Health Care’s proposed deal to sell its nationwide physician network to UnitedHealth Group subsidiary Optum is off, raising more questions about the company's efforts to bring its finances under control through bankruptcy.

Dallas-based Steward owns more than 30 hospitals in eight states, including eight in Florida.

OptumCare, a national for-profit owner of tens of thousands of physician groups, and Steward told Massachusetts regulators they have decided not to move forward with a sale of Stewardship Health, an affiliate that includes clinicians in nine states.

Steward cited a "challenging" review process at the federal Department of Justice but said it continues to seek other buyers, according to WBUR-FM in Boston.

"Stewardship Health remains a valuable asset that provides excellent care for its patients; there are multiple other parties that remain interested in acquiring the business and Steward is in active negotiations," the company told WBUR, an NPR affiliate.

In Massachusetts Steward’s troubles have drawn the ire of top political figures including U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey, who have said the company’s previous private equity owners “sold (Steward) for parts” and “walked away with hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Steward filed for Chapter 11 protection in May with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Texas. At the time, Steward said it planned to sell off all its hospitals and that it did not expect any interruptions in day-to-day operations.

In June, a group of Democratic members of Congress, led by Sen. Edward Markey of Massachusetts, wrote to the U.S. Department of Labor seeking reassurances that workers at hospitals owned by Steward would have their health care and retirement benefits protected.

Markey said many workers who rely on Steward for their livelihood were already facing financial uncertainty and anxiety. In Massachusetts, he said, paychecks to Steward workers were delayed following the bankruptcy filing due to processing delays.

In Florida, Steward operates Coral Gables Hospital, Hialeah Hospital, North Shore Medical Center and Palmetto General Hospital in Miami-Dade County; Florida Medical Center in Broward; Melbourne Regional Medical Center and Rockledge Regional Medical Center in Brevard; and Sebastian River Medical Center in Indian River.

Steward acquired the Miami-Dade and Broward hospitals from Tenet Healthcare in 2021.

The health system also runs hospitals in Arizona, Arkansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas.

Information from WBUR in Boston and the Associated Press was used in this report.

I’m the online producer for Health News Florida, a collaboration of public radio stations and NPR that delivers news about health care issues.