Saying they want to become a "world leader in personalized primary care," health care companies UnityPoint Health and Sanford Health will explore a merger by the end of 2019, the companies announced Friday.

UnityPoint Health, based in Des Moines, operates facilities in Bettendorf, Moline, Muscatine and Rock Island. Sanford Health is based in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The companies have signed a letter of intent to "explore joining their trusted brands," they said in a news release. The merger would be subject to regulatory review.

They plan to build on "strengths in clinical care, research, innovation and education to deliver greater health outcomes and value in communities in the Midwest and around the world," they said.

The combined company would have more than $11 billion in operating revenue, and rank among the top 15 largest nonprofit health systems in the country. It would employ more than 83,000 staff and 2,600 physicians at hospitals, clinics, health plans and networks, post-acute care, research, innovation and other lines of business in 26 states and nine countries.

“We believe that in the very near future, fully integrated health systems will drive greater value through affordable options for high-quality health care to patients, governments and employers," said Kelby Krabbenhoft, president and CEO of Sanford Health. "The combination of Sanford and UnityPoint will help both organizations better meet this need, creating a new system positioned for continued growth across a broad geography.”

“We are approaching our discussions very purposefully, with a clear and common vision for success. First and foremost, our focus is on people," said Kevin Vermeer, president and CEO of UnityPoint Health. "Working together, we will find new ways to broaden access to care – beyond the traditional settings – and take greater responsibility for the health of the populations we serve.”

Company officials said these principles will guide their merger talks:

• Leadership: Krabbenhoft would serve as president and CEO, and Vermeer as senior executive vice president.

• Unified Board: A new governing Board would be established, with members from both organizations, and others unaffiliated with relevant national industry experience and expertise. UnityPoint Health would recommend the inaugural Board chair.

• Care delivery: The companies would continue to operate their respective fully-integrated medical groups and maintain longstanding relationships with independent physicians, hospitals and other health care partners.

“We will work tirelessly to find the next cures for diseases like type 1 diabetes and breast cancer; train and grow our own physicians, nurses and other medical professionals who commit to providing care in rural America; and offer innovative health and wellness products and telemedicine services to help people live better, get care closer to home and stay healthier,” said Krabbenhoft.

“As trusted health care brands with deep Midwestern roots, our organizations have worked hard to establish strong relationships in the communities we serve, whether that be a small rural town or a location across the globe. Together, we will build on these relationships to create new opportunities to meet unique community needs and thrive in an ever-changing environment,” said Vermeer.

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