CHICAGO -- BJC Health System, the product of a 1993 merger funded by $335 million of debt, has been upgraded by Standard & Poor's Corp. on the eve of a $179 million bond issue designed to help the group as it expands further into the St. Louis market.

The new revenue bond issue is scheduled to be priced tomorrow, exactly one year after Barnes-Jewish Inc. and Christian Health Services -- both not-for-profit entities -- combined forces and united their debt under one legal structure. In the ensuing year, BJC has acquired two new hospitals and moved to a leading position in the St. Louis area, according to Standard & Poor's.

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