DETROIT (WWJ/AP) –  Two Southeast Michigan health systems say they have signed an agreement to combine operations into a single, $6.4 billion nonprofit organization.

Wednesday’s announcement by Beaumont and Henry Ford health systems followed months of study and a formal agreement likely won’t come until the first half of next year.

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The merger would affect 10 hospitals, 200 patient care centers and 40,000 employees — 7,000 doctors.

“For nearly 60 years, Beaumont has been a trusted, essential care provider for patients in Oakland County and surrounding areas. We are a strong, profitable and growing organization today, but the world of health care delivery is changing, so we are taking proactive steps to ensure continued growth and success,” said Gene Michalski, CEO of Beaumont Health System, in a statement. “Beaumont and Henry Ford are perfect partners because of our shared values, history of innovation and strong leadership in value, quality and safety.”

Officials said the two systems would keep their names and medical staffs would remain independent. But the combined organization would get a new name and it would be led by a single board with equal representation from both systems.

The hospitals intend to maintain their existing medical school relationships but combine their foundations.

“Our shared vision is to form a new organization that will develop improved approaches to patient care that will lead the nation in quality outcomes, service, access and reliability,” said Nancy M. Schlichting, CEO of Henry Ford Health System. “It is a bold and exciting vision that will mean easier, more accessible and more integrated care for our patients.  Coming together allows us to create a ‘Pure Michigan’ community-based system that will serve as an engine of innovation and economic development.”

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System leaders say the merger is driven by big changes to the health care industry, including declining reimbursement for care and a shift away from treatment at traditional hospitals.

Officials say that patients will not have to change their doctors, and they can keep their insurance.

Employees at Detroit’s Henry Ford campus said they’ve been told just a little so far about the deal. WWJ City Beat Reporter Vickie Thomas spoke with surgical tech Carmella Tyler, who has worked there for 18 years.  She’s optimistic.

“I think it’s good as far as jobs, you know. People need jobs out here … the economy is bad. I think it will work out well for everybody,” Tyler said.

Other workers say they’re worried about potential job cuts a merger might bring, but

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