PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The largest employer in the Portland area is about to change.

Oregon Health & Science University and Legacy Health revealed Wednesday they intend to merge into one organization. The combined operation, with over 32,000 employees, would push Intel from the top spot.

In a mega medical merger, OHSU has offered to take the financially struggling Legacy Health System under its wing. Legacy’s clinics and hospitals would become part of OHSU, which is a public company that is partially state-funded.

The board of directors of both organizations approved the merger. Now it’s up to government regulators to give it the OK, because it’s not a done deal just yet.

“This is certainly something that the feds are going to look at if they are going to do a merger review between OHSU and Legacy. They may even mandate that Legacy or OHSU don’t close any facilities or do better on price transparency,” said Eric Fruits, from the International Center for Law & Economics in Portland.

Eric Fruits (KOIN)

OHSU issued a statement on the merger, saying they have “enjoyed a decades-long relationship with Legacy Health, united by a shared commitment to improving the health and well-being of people in Oregon and beyond.”

Legacy had shut down its Family Birth Center at Mt. Hood Medical Center earlier this year, citing financial reasons, before the state forced them to reopen.

Hospital mergers are on the rise around the country, which are often touted as expanding and preserving access to care — preventing a healthcare provider from going out of business.

But there are questions as to what this means locally with less competition and how will it affect care.

“There should be some scrutiny about whether a merger such as this might exacerbate some of those issues such as higher prices or reduced services,” said Fruits.

As a work in progress that still needs government approval, there are not many details as to what the merger will look like for staff or patients. But OHSU and Legacy say they expect to complete the merger next year.

SEIU Local 49, the largest union representing workers at four Legacy System hospitals, says they are following this merger closely.

“Our focus remains on how a merger of this scope may impact healthcare workers, patients and the overall quality of care provided. We look forward to future conversations with OHSU and Legacy Health on how we can work together for the benefit of our members and patients throughout the region,” the union said.

The Oregon Nurses Association also released a statement on the merger.

“It is important for Oregonians to keep in mind that yesterday’s announcement of a $1 billion commitment from Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) to fund a merger with Legacy Health (the two largest health systems in the Portland region) comes exactly one week after nurses declared an impasse in their ongoing contract negotiations with OHSU.

While nurses at OHSU have been at the bargaining table looking for management to step up and do what is right for their nurses and their patients, OHSU’s management has been short-changing the nurses in their contract offers while also pledging more than $1 billion over ten years to an acquisition.

OHSU management should step up with a fair contract for the more than 3,000 nurses at OHSU before undertaking one of the largest healthcare mergers in Oregon’s history.

Oregon Nurses Association (ONA) has a long history of advancing the health of patients, and improving the working conditions of nurses, at OHSU via collective bargaining. In fact, we know that patients are healthier, and staff have safer working conditions and higher job satisfaction, when healthcare workers are unionized, no matter which hospital or clinic is in question.

Over the past few years, we have seen significant failures on the part of the Legacy Health System, including, most recently, the attempted closure of the Family Birth Center at Legacy Mt. Hood, and horrific acts of violence in the workplace at Legacy Good Samaritan. ONA does not have any faith in Legacy’s management, so a merger with a public institution like OHSU – which will come with more requirements related to transparency and accountability – is likely to be in the best interests of Legacy’s patients and their 13,000 staff members.

This merger brings up more questions than answers, and ONA is committed to being a thoughtful partner with nurses and healthcare workers across OHSU and Legacy while the details of this agreement are hammered out.

Having a union in a healthcare setting means better working conditions for staff and better outcomes for patients. ONA-represented nurses at OHSU have a strong connection to their colleagues at Legacy facilities and are eager to work together in the future for the benefit of patients.

Today, ONA is looking forward to getting a fair contract with OHSU and then working with the newly merged healthcare system to ensure their staff have access to the collective power of ONA.”