JACKSON – Baptist Memorial Health Care and Mississippi Baptist leaders joined forces Monday to celebrate the merger of the two systems.

“It will really draw on the best of both,” said Jason Little, president and chief executive officer of Memphis-based Baptist Memorial Health Care.

Together, Baptist is now the largest health system in Mississippi and among the largest not-for-profit systems in the country in terms of number of hospitals. It is the fourth largest employer in Mississippi.

When the new Baptist Memorial Hospital in West Memphis is completed next year, the system will have 22 hospitals, with 10 in Mississippi, 10 in Tennessee and two in Arkansas. In Northeast Mississippi, the system includes hospitals in Oxford, Booneville, New Albany, Calhoun City and Columbus.

Patients and their families will likely see few outward changes, said Mississippi Baptist system president and chief executive officer Chris Anderson. The biggest change for clinical staff at the Mississippi Baptist hospitals in Jackson and Yazoo, Attala and Leake counties will be the shift to the electronic medical records used by Baptist Memorial.

“Our mission doesn’t really change,” said Anderson, noting that both organizations share a commitment to Christian values and quality health care.

The merger will give the hospital a broader range of resources and centers of excellence to draw on.

“The sum is greater than its parts,” Little said.

In an era when many rural hospitals are struggling to survive, a larger system provides support for technology, infrastructure and recruiting talent.

“The smaller the hospital, the harder it is to do those things,” Anderson said.

The two systems began talking about a merger in September, but the seeds were planted in long-running collaborations and complementary cultures, Anderson said. The merger had to be approved by the Federal Trade Commission before it was finalized last month.

“There’s no geographic overlap,” between the two systems, Anderson said, “but they fit neatly together.”

The merger now puts Baptist systems in two of the three fastest growing counties in Mississippi.

“Mississippi has been an extremely strong market for us,” Little said.

The system leaders have their eyes on future growth.

“We do anticipate there will be additional opportunities,” Little said, where other hospitals may be interested in joining the system.

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