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Byline: MARILYN ALVA
Who needs the big city when you can turn a tidy profit in burgs such as Mesquite, Texas; Lehigh Acres, Fla.; and Gaffney, S.C.?
Towns like those form the backbone of Health Management Associates Inc. It owns and operates 43 hospitals in small towns. With sales last year of nearly $2 billion, it's the nation's largest for-profit hospital operator in nonurban areas.
Health Management's formula remains basically the same today as it did more than two decades ago, when it shifted its focus to smaller markets. The firm acquires distressed hospitals and invests in new technology, equipment and managers. Then it recruits physicians to pull in new …