Sentara Healthcare and Cone Health, headquartered in Greensboro, North Carolina, have signed a letter of intent to combine organizations.

No changes are anticipated at Sentara Halifax Regional Hospital, according to Kelly Kennedy of Sentara’s Corporate Communications Team.

While she said it’s too early to say specifically what this merger could mean for Sentara Halifax Regional Hospital patients, employees and providers, Kennedy did say it would allow for “expanded resources” and “innovative services” such as “telehealth, virtual health and additional sites of care.”

Affordability and access have become central issues, especially for those in rural communities, said Kennedy.

With this merger, Sentara personnel believe combining “our organization with Cone Health will have the ability to better and more quickly address these challenges in ways neither Sentara Healthcare nor Cone Health could do on its own.”

Cone Health, a not-for-profit integrated healthcare network consists of five hospitals in North Carolina. The system employs more than 13,000 people, including nearly 1,200 physicians and advanced practice providers, and operates more than 100 care sites. Its Medicare Advantage health plan, HealthTeam Advantage serves 15,000 members.

Sentara Healthcare is an integrated, not-for-profit system comprised of 12 hospitals in Virginia and Northeastern North Carolina. They employ more than 1,200 physicians and advanced practice clinicians, 30,000 team members and operate hundreds of sites of care. Their Optima Health Plan and Virginia Premier Health Plan serve 858,000 members in Virginia, North Carolina and Ohio.

Currently, nothing changes for patients, physicians, staff or health plan members at Cone Health and Sentara, according to a Cone Health news release.

Patients can expect the same high level of care from the same doctors and staff at the same locations they use today, the release stated.

The merger is the result of a more than 18-month discussion between to the two health care systems, according to Kennedy with Sentara.

Cone Health Board of Trustees recently voted unanimously to move forward with this letter of intent.

“By merging with Cone Health, we become a model for the rest of the nation in healthcare that is rooted in the needs of local communities. After extensive exploration with Cone Health about combining our organizations, we are fully confident that our similar missions, cultures, strategies and visions for transforming the future of healthcare make us ideal allies in shaping this future,” said Kennedy.

“Cone Health is among the highest-quality health care organizations in the nation, and we are financially strong. With the right partner, we can build on what we’ve created and do even more for those we are privileged to serve,” said Terry Akin, CEO, Cone Health. “We have long said that Cone Health doesn’t intend to grow simply for the sake of growth. Instead, we are partnering for inspiring possibilities.”

The merger is subject to state and federal review and customary closing conditions. It should be formalized by mid-2021. It is expected to take up to two years to fully combine and integrate the organizations. In the meantime, both organizations and their leadership teams will operate as usual.