PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- It's a sale a lot of people are keeping their eye one -- the potential sale of Mercy Hosptial to a Massachusetts based hopsital chain.

If it goes through, Mercy would become the first hospital in the state to be owned by a for-profit company. Experts watching the deal say implications for patients and their health care go beyond tax status.

Negotiations have been underway for weeks, but questions continue around the potential sale of Portland's second largest hospital to a for-profit chain based in Massachusetts, Steward Health Care Systems.

Mitchell Stein is the policy director for Consumers for Affordable Health Care, a patient advocacy organization. He says the terms of the deal won't be known for months. Up until this point, all acute care hospitals in Maine are non-profit. Steward has ten community hospitals, six have Catholic affiliations and is owned by a New York venture capital firm.

"On one hand we need to be cautious about that profit motive, but on the other hand you are bringing new resources to enable the system to do things in a better and more efficient way," saidStein.

Officials from Mercy and Steward were not available for comment for this story. But Mercy is expected to allowed to continue it's Catholic affiliation.

Steward has publicly stated if the sale goes through Mercy will continue to provide free care to folks who can't pay their medical bills, it's a policy that's even more generous that stae law requires. And all of Mercy's 1,700 employees will keep their jobs.

Dr. Andy Coburn is a national expert of health policy and chairs the public health program at USM's Muskie School of Public Service. He says as a non-profit Mercy is obligated to be accountable to the public and is run by a board that represents the community.

'The question remains how they will be supervised if you will when there really isn't any public transparency require for a for profit institution such as this,' said Coburn.

As part of the deal, Steward is expected to make a signifigant investment in Mercy's facilities and programs, a system that has struggled financially for several years. Whether that will translate into lower costs for health care remains to be seen.

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