Cincinnati-Roto-Rooter Inc. has signed a merger agreement to acquire Miami-based hospice-care provider Vitas Healthcare Corp., which has an Orlando office-but Roto-Rooter plans to separate the companies by spinning off or selling stock in one of them after the acquisition is done.

Vitas, the nation's largest for-profit, end-of-life care provider, operates 25 programs in eight states. Roto-Rooter, through its Comfort Care Holdings subsidiary, already holds about 37 percent of Vitas common shares. The agreed deal will see it paying about $410 million in cash for the portion of Vitas it does not own already.

Vitas shareholders will receive cash of $30 per share in the merger, which is expected to close before March 15. Vitas reported revenue of more than $420 million for its fiscal year ending September 30, 2003. The company has more than 5,700 employees who care for about 8,000 terminally ill patients each day, mainly in the patients' homes, but also in Vitas' 17 hospice inpatient units as well as in hospitals, nursing homes and assisted-living facilities. -Orlando Business Journal